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Five Vancouver Island First Nations ready to catch and sell fish on their own terms

West Coast Nuu-chah-nulth fishing nations prepared to exercise court-won access to the resource
A commercial fishing boat as a part of the T’aaq-wiihak Fishery in 2016. (Melody Charlie photo)

Three months after celebrating a victory in court, the hereditary leadership of five Nuu Chah Nulth First Nations are prepared to exercise their right to harvest and sell fish — with or without co-operation of the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“The Five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations of Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Ehattesaht/Chinehkint, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht will no longer stand by, as our fishers remain tied to our docks, while non-Indigenous users benefit from the resources of our traditional territories,” reads a joint-statement released Aug. 4.

In April, the British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously upheld parts of a 2018 ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court that found Canada’s regulation and management of commercial fisheries unjustifiably infringed on the First Nations’ rights to harvest and sell fish.

“They cannot wait any longer for Canada to work with them on fishing plans and will be fishing under the authority of their Ha’wiih and asserting their rights as they have done since time immemorial,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Dr. Judith Sayers. “It is what must happen since Canada continually leaves them out of the commercial fishery to the detriment of our fishers while favouring those that only have a privilege to fish.

“We have fought hard through the courts and politically and now it is time to act on their rights and participate fully in economics that will support their families as they rightfully should.”

The statement suggests the Nations have tried to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for more than a decade to develop fisheries in line with their rights.

“From the beginning, we’ve been willing to share – that was our approach right from day one,” said Ahousaht First Nation lead negotiator Wickaninnish, Cliff Atleo. “Fishing is at the center of Nuu-chah-nulth’s pre-contact activities, our way of life, and our cultural practices. We are a fishing people. By failing to breathe life into our negotiation agreements, the Government of Canada is pushing us to exercise what our Ha’wiih have the authority to do. We’re creating our own fisheries management plans within the framework of conservation, and we will enact them within our traditional territories.”

The five Nations say their right to fish and sell fish is “second only to conservation and has priority over the recreational and commercial sectors.”

“The DFO and the rest of Canada need to understand that our traditional territories, and the resources within, are ours to manage,” said Ahousaht First Nation Hereditary Chief Richard George. “We’re fighting for these resources so that our next seven generations will be able to participate in fisheries into the future.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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