DFO dismissed from negotiations by hereditary chiefs; Prime Minister no longer welcome in TFN territory

Port Alberni

The hereditary chiefs of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations stood Sept. 23 to tell Fisheries and Oceans Canada Regional Director General Rebecca Reid and her staff to leave Nuu-chah-nulth territories and not come back until they bring with them a mandate to negotiate in good faith on their Aboriginal commercial fishing rights.

See video: https://youtu.be/RIQRIBSHoQQ

Further, Chief Councillor Elmer Frank of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation told Ha-Shilth-Sa he would be writing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say he was no longer welcome in the Tla-o-qui-aht ha-houlthee (chiefly lands) until his bureaucracy and government lawyers began reflecting the Prime Minister’s promise of reconciliation with the First Nations of this land.

Trudeau took part in Tla-o-qui-aht’s parade through Tofino this summer, which celebrated the good working relationship that local governments enjoy with the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. At that time, the Prime Minister talked about the improved relationship his government is working to develop with Indigenous peoples.

Either the Prime Minister and his ministers are misleading the country, or the bureaucracy is not fulfilling that new direction , said Francis Frank, a lead negotiator for the T’aaq-wiihak Nations, the five nations that proved in Canada’s own court system their right to fish and sell fish.

The Department of Fisheries is still putting forward the Conservative agenda, following a model developed under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, read a statement from the nations during a meeting today. This model includes “stalling and continued litigation.”

He said either the Liberal government is still pushing the Conservative position, or the bureaucracy is resisting Trudeau’s new approach.

The T’aaq-wiihak Nations have been at the table with DFO for seven years. Today, after repeatedly asking RDG Reid if she had a mandate to negotiate the fishing plans submitted by the nations in 2014, Reid told them she did not have the mandate to deal with the issues of increased allocations and the priority of their aboriginal right.

After a brief break in the discussions, the Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) stood behind speaker Cliff Atleo as he sung a prayer song. After speaking in the Nuu-chah-nulth language he told the DFO staff that the Ha’wiih expressed their appreciation for them coming to the meeting to share what they had.

“But the chiefs are saying, that’s not enough, because we’re not doing what we came for. Their time is no less valuable than yours… things aren’t happening as they should. That’s enough… you have to do something more than you are now. You have to quit looking down on our people like we’re third class citizens,” Atleo said.

“On behalf of the chiefs, Rebecca and your team, thanks for coming, and we wish you well.”

At that, the DFO team left the room, with Atleo shaking each of their hands as they went.

For the past four or five years, Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen have been offered small, restrictive “demonstration” fisheries with a minimal catch allocation. Despite their limited means, Nuu-chah-nulth  fishers have invested scarce dollars in equipment with the understanding that Canada would honour the fishing rights court decision so they could provide for their families. Each year brings more anger at the delays, and frustration is boiling over on the water, the chiefs told DFO.

Frank said this does not mean that Nuu-chah-nulth fishers are free to go do what they want. “That’s not what this means.” While the chiefs and fishers are frustrated with lack of negotiations, their fishing plans are based on proper management and controlled access to abundant fish stocks in their territories.

Chief Councillor Frank, a fisherman himself, said he spoke to Prime Minister Trudeau about his hope for economic growth in his territory, and said that hope relied in part on the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries.

“Right now, it’s not working,” he said.

Chief Frank said there was an expectation among Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen that the meeting today would bring new opportunities for them on multi-species fisheries as was decided by the courts. Those expectations were not met and the patience of the five nations reached its end.

Francis Frank said it was time for DFO to quit playing silly games.

“Enough is enough,” he said.

“We expect Canada and DFO to reevaluate your approach and come back to this table when you are serious about reconciling our Aboriginal Rights in a meaningful and respectful manner,” Reid and her staff were told at the meeting.

Until that time “we are not willing to subject our Ha’wiih, elders, fishers and members any more to this farce you call ‘negotiations’.”

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