Ken Watts, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
Photo by Melody Charlie
The voices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers, the voice of Canada’s bureaucracy through Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the voice of government lawyers are telling three different stories to the Nuu-chah-nulth people, said Ken Watts, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
“Canada must stop speaking with three different voices,” he said.
Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Ehattesaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations are wondering if Trudeau, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould have given any “new direction” to their bureaucrats and lawyers on the nations’ Aboriginal right to fish commercially.
It’s been seven years since the declaration of their commercial fishing rights, and these five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations remain without a negotiated agreement to participate in the fisheries in their territories, reads a press statement issued Sept. 27.
And it’s been a year since the last federal election, which ushered in the Liberals under Trudeau and his promise of a new relationship with First Nations peoples.
And yet the mandate for federal negotiators has not changed since Minister Gail Shea and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s time in power, NTC said.
After years developing fishing proposals and continued rejection of those proposals by DFO, the Nations went back to court in March 2015 for what’s known as a “justification trial”.
The release states:
After more than a year in trial, the Nations are now witness to the shocking final submissions by the Federal government in court. Rather than address how to accommodate the Nations’ Aboriginal right, Department of Justice lawyers are arguing for why the Aboriginal right should be restricted and minimized, and only then might the Minister consider what would be appropriate for the government to do to allow the Nations to exercise their right.
In a meeting with the five nations Sept. 23, Rebecca Reid, DFO Regional Director General, said she was unaware that Canada’s lawyers were arguing that the Nuu-chah-nulth court-proven right to fish commercially should now be redefined as a “low-level” right. The five Nations became frustrated and wondered what DFO thought it was negotiating. The Ha’wiih (Hereditary Chiefs) then put an abrupt end to discussions.
After seven years, Reid had told the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations that they had nothing new to negotiate. Reid was told not to return until Canada developed a mandate to implement their rights-based fisheries.
Expressing “deep disappointment” with the Liberal government, the nations said the words and actions from DFO and from the Department of Justice lawyers are the same as those under Harper’s Conservatives.
“When Stephen Harper professed in 2006 that there would be no ‘race-based’ fisheries in Canada, at least he was being up front about his position,” said Autlieyu (Francis Frank), a lead negotiator for the Nations. “The same cannot be said for Prime Minister Trudeau and his Ministers.”
He said Trudeau continues to say it’s time for a new relationship that “understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.”
When Wilson-Raybould spoke at the United Nations last year, she said “The challenge moving forward…is not to fight battles already won, but rather to translate these hard fought-for rights into practical and meaningful benefits on the ground in our [Indigenous] communities.”
Canada is treating the Nuu-chah-nulth proven fishing rights as an inconvenience that it must restrict and minimize rather than uphold. And DOJ lawyers are refighting the battle already won, said NTC.
Watts said “The words of the Prime Minister and his Ministers must translate into a mandate to negotiate and legal positions that respect Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and their Aboriginal right.
“Canada must have one voice and one course of action aimed at truly respecting First Nations and living up to the goal of reconciliation.”