Gord Johns, MP for Courtenay-Alberni, speaks at a T’aaq-wiihak media event in Vancouver following the release of the ‘Justification Trial’ decision, April 2018. Photo credit: Melody Charlie

Nuu-chah-nulth Nations urge government to fulfill Supreme Court decision on fishing rights

Nov. 3 marked the 10-year anniversary of Supreme Court decision

Five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are urging the newly elected government to fulfill a 2009 B.C. Supreme Court decision on fishing rights.

Nov. 3 marked the 10-year anniversary of a decision that recognized the Aboriginal Right of the Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ehattesaht, and Mowachaht/Muchalaht Nations to commercially fish in their territories. On Nov. 4, the five Nations sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, insisting on action from the newly elected government to implement and fulfill constitutional fishing rights.

“It should not take the Government of Canada 10 years to live up to a judgement of Canada’s high court. Why do they think they are above the law?” said Kekinusuqs, Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) president, in a press release. “This means 10 years of lost revenue to our fisherman and a denial of our right to a commercial fishery. The federal government must not stall anymore and must move immediately to remedy this issue.

Despite the pivotal Supreme Court ruling in 2009, implementation of the ruling has been delayed and challenged by a series of unsuccessful attempts to appeal the decision by the federal government. The overall process has reportedly left Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen struggling.

“We should not have to fight for a way of life that our ancestors carried on for thousands of years,” said Wickaninnish, Clifford Atleo, lead negotiator for the Ahousaht First Nation, in a press release. “Past governments imposed small portions of our territory as reservations because we depended on the sea. Through government policies our people have been systematically forced off the waters.”

Gord Johns, newly-reelected Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni, said that the decision by successive governments to fight First Nations in court over rights already affirmed by the Supreme Court is a “betrayal” of the Nation-to-Nation relationship that must be the foundation of reconciliation.

“It is an unconscionable assault on the livelihood of First Nations fishers and on our regional economy,” he added.

The five Nations have stated that they are still willing to negotiate in order to move the process forward. The NTC will continue to support the five Nations, urging the government to implement the 2009 Supreme Court ruling.

“It is our intention to re-establish an independent way of life through sound management and harvesting methods. The government encourages successful economies and we intend to be a part of that,” said Atleo.

The letter dated Nov. 4, 2019 requested the following from the Prime Minister:

– Direct ministers and staff to conclude a reconciliation agreement with the five Nations by March of 2020 so that they can begin to implement expanded community fisheries in the 2020 fishing season.

– Direct ministers to meet with representatives of the five Nations as soon as possible so they can be briefed on the steps remaining to conclude an agreement with Canada.

– Recognize that agreement or no agreement, the five Nations require and are entitled to meaningful, economically viable fishing opportunities.

– Direct the Minister of Fisheries and DFO staff to revise specific policies and regulations to foster rather than impede community-based fisheries.

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