Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Deb Foxcroft at a Press Conference on Nuu-chah-nulth right to fish and sell fish today in Vancouver. Ahouaht Tyee Ha'wih Maquinna Lewis George beside her. Tyees Mike Savey and Norman George behins.
Photos by Cara McKenna
On the one-year anniversary of the federal election, Indigenous leaders are calling on Canada to finally implement the fishing rights that were awarded to Nuu-chah-nulth nations in 2009.
Leaders from five Nuu-chah-nulth communities, as well as those from provincial and national Indigenous political organizations, gathered for a news conference at Musqueam First Nation in Vancouver on Oct. 19.
The leaders were marking the fact that, exactly one year after the Liberal government’s election on promises of a renewed nation-to-nation relationship, basic Indigenous fishing rights continue to be ignored.
In 2009, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that Nuu-chah-nulth people have the right to fish for, and sell, any species in their territories, but the leaders say almost nothing has changed seven years later.
Autlieyu (Francis Frank), a lead negotiator in the Nuu-chah-nulth fishing case, said it is frustrating to continue to fight a battle that was already won.
“We’re also tired of being the little kid that’s standing on the side of the dining room table waiting for the crumbs to be thrown our way,” he said.
“This is after seven years of courts instructing us in 2009 to try to reach a negotiated agreement.”
Frank said leaders reached their “boiling point” with the DFO during a heated meeting on Sept. 23 where a Department of Fisheries and Oceans director and her staff were asked to leave Nuu-chah-nulth territories.
The DFO has only negotiated for two species of fish since the 2009 case, despite Nuu-chah-nulth negotiators putting forward plans covering more than two dozen species.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who has supported the case from the outset, called the DFO’s behavior unacceptable.
“The Nuu-chah-nulth people have offered numerous fishing plans based on traditional knowledge, based on science, very reasonable proposals, and they’ve all been rejected,” Stewart said.
“It’s absolutely disappointing.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John were also at the event to back the Nuu-chah-nulth leaders.
“We are here to help and support, politically, legally, whatever we have to do to make sure these rights are recognized going forward,” Bellegarde said.
“The message is clear and simple: We don’t want to go backwards.”
Ahousaht fisher Andrew Webster said small fishing allocations combined with changes on the water are making it harder and harder for people to support their families.
“It’s very difficult to try and support my family because of the small allocations,” he said.
“This past summer, because of changes on the water, fish disappeared a lot earlier, so we never got a chance to catch our allocations because of the different conditions.”
Webster said the allocation was only for about 200 fish, however, he didn’t catch anything near that because the fish migrated out of his area before he could.
Commercial fishers from outside already had more than a month of fishing on Ahousaht waters before fishers from the nation were even allowed in.
“They’ve got to give us more opportunity. We shouldn’t be just stuck on salmon,” he said.
“They gave us a little bit of halibut this year, but we weren’t allowed to use longline gear to catch our meager amount of fish.”
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Deb Foxcroft concluded, “Enough is enough.
“We’re tired, and our chiefs have been very patient,” she said.
“We’re tired of being nice. We always want to move forward and make sure we can get our people on the water fishing like we did thousands of years ago.”