Police in Newfoundland are investigating complaints of hate speech, stemming from a December fisheries meeting in Clarenville where a fisherman made a comment about the Mi'kmaq in Conne River.

The fisherman involved, though, says his comments have been misconstrued. 

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Chief Misel Joe says the fishermen who were upset, saying the Mi'kmaq people were getting preferential treatment, were directing their frustrations at the wrong party. (CBC)

Fishermen and officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were discussing licence rights when the comment was made.

A member of the band who was attending the meeting heard the comment, and brought the complaint to Chief Misel Joe.

"During their argument in the conversation about the fishing and the lack of fish and the lack of regulations — or too much regulations — the meeting got quite loud at one time, and an individual fisherman said, 'We killed all the Beothuks, we should have killed them [the Mi'kmaq], too,'" Joe said.

When Joe heard this account from the member of his band, he brought the issue to the RCMP.

Joe said he can sympathize with the frustrations that resulted in the meeting, but believes the anger was targeted at the wrong group of people.

'When those statements are made and grown men with children of their own ... who probably go to church every Sunday, laugh at something like that and think it's funny, then there's something wrong.'- Chief Misel Joe

"I felt extremely hurt and disappointed. I fully understand and appreciate fishermen getting angry with DFO about regulations and loss of quotas because we're in the same boat … [but] I can't rant and rave and go out and say, 'The God damn white people, that's their fault,'" he said.

According to Joe, the band member present said he felt intimidated, and was quick to leave the meeting rather than speak up out of fear of being injured.

He said the response from the other people in the room wasn't what he'd hoped.

"The individual fisherpeople that were in that room, there was a lot of them that thought it was funny. That was probably the turning point for me in terms of doing something," Joe said.

"When those statements are made and grown men with children of their own, families of their own, grandchildren of their own, who probably go to church every Sunday, laugh at something like that and think it's funny, then there's something wrong … with the way people are looking at other people."

Taken out of context: fisherman

Bob Hennebury, a fisherman from Lord's Cove, admits that he's the one who made the comment, but said it wasn't meant the way it was taken and was part of an exchange about Conne River's licensing rights. 

Hennebury said that while he's not sorry for what he said, he also didn't mean it in a hurtful way.

'I never meant no hard feelings to anybody in Conne River — I'm just trying to make a point'- Fisherman Bob Hennebury

"I don't regret what I said, not in the context that I said it. Now I don't know what way some people took it, but if they took it different than what I was trying to put across, well, so be it. I mean, I never meant no hard feelings to anybody in Conne River — I'm just trying to make a point."

Hennebury said he believes the band gets preferential treatment from DFO, and he questions Mi'kmaq native rights in this province, but he said his intention wasn't to hurt anyone.

"A lot of those companies now are stepping in and buying licences and stuff, and we have Conne River up there that's involved in the fishery now — they're buying licences hand over fist," Hennebury said.

According to Hennebury, the Conne River band is being given an unfair advantage when it comes to fishing in the area.

"Between Conne River and the companies, an individual fisherman don't have a fair stake anymore. They don't have the resources available to them that these other people do."

A spokesperson with DFO said the department won't make a statement because the incident is still under investigation.

With files from Leigh Anne Power