First Nations on Vancouver Island are taking a firm stand against the Liberal government over what they say is the inadequacy of action for their fishing rights.
The Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) and leaders of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations—Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinehkint, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tla-o-qui-aht—are sending a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that certain actions must follow his promise of a “new and respectful relationship” with Indigenous people.
In 2009 the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the group of First Nations has the right to harvest and sell all species of fish found within its territories. However, over the past seven years negotiations for the nations’ commercial fishing rights have stalled.
“It feels like someone is shaking your hand and then kicking you in the shin after,” said Ken Watts, vice-president of the Nuu-Chah-nulth Tribal Council. “[The Liberals] basically haven’t brought anything more than the previous government.”
The nations are asking the federal government to appoint a senior representative with a mandate to negotiate fishing plans.
“The prime minister said there’s no relationship more important than First Nations people,” Watts said.
“I try to give hope and be optimistic that the prime minister really means what he says, but it’s just not being reflected within the department staff and the bureaucracy and the legal team.”
Watts said the negotiation of fishing rights is important, not just for Nuu-chah-nulth people, but for all Canadians, especially on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to help create a stable and thriving economy.
“If Canada came forward and said we’re actually going to negotiate… it could be in the millions into the local economy and helping poverty in or local economy,” Watts said. “The same fishers that are out there fishing…they live, eat and sleep in our communities and they’re going to spend in our communities too.”
At a First Nations Summit meeting last Wednesday in Vancouver, MLA Scott Fraser stood with Indigenous leaders in support of the five nations.
“The Nuu-chah-nulth have reacted and they’ve been patient. They’ve waited seven years for a government to change and actually come to the table in a meaningful way and actually respect the court decision, Fraser said.
“This government so far has not done that.”
Fraser believes the lack of new negotiations by the government is a “complete failure for the Nuu-chah-nulth fisheries issue.”
“It’s scary when governments choose not to listen to court decisions. Court decisions apply to governments too, they can’t pick and choose,” Fraser said.
Also firmly supporting the Nuu-chah-nulth nations is Gord Johns, Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni, who has recently raised the issue of fishing rights in the House of Commons in Ottawa.
“The hereditary chiefs have taken the unprecedented action of dismissing government officials from their meeting and told the prime minister he is no longer welcome on their lands,” said Johns in the House of Commons on Oct. 19.
“When will the prime minister take his own promises seriously, show true respect for the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and begin fair negotiations?”
Johns has asked about the Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights seven times in the House of Commons, and is the only MP in the 42nd Parliament to do so.
“I’m doing everything I can to stand with the Nuu-chah-nulth to ensure that they have a voice here in Ottawa on this important issue,” Johns said.
“We won’t let up. We will ensure that they’re going to be heard and get the respect that they deserve.”