Ahousaht Governance presented to Ha’wiih and DFO Officials

By Denise Titian, February 25, 2011

Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna’s HuupuKwanum is presented: From left to right Ahousaht herditary chiefs Hayupinulth and Maquinna. Kiista holds the seat for A-in-chut, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. 

Ahousaht — 

Ahousaht Ha’wiih and leaders delivered a lesson in Ahousaht governance on Feb. 25. Their goal was to demonstrate to senior DFO staff the existence and continued practice of Ha’wilthmis, or leadership through the hereditary chief system.

T’aaq-wiihak, the permission of the Ha’wiih to fish, is the basis for the negotiations between Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and DFO to implement a plan that would allow Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen to harvest and sell fish commercially, as directed by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The Court found that the Nuu-chah-nulth plaintiffs have a right to fish and sell fish—any species—into the commercial marketplace.

In her Nov. 3, 2009 decision, Justice Nicole Garson gave the parties two years to “consult and negotiate the manner in which the plaintiffs’ aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish can be accommodated and exercised…”

Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and fishermen immediately rolled up their sleeves, attempting to engage DFO staff in negotiations and planning that would allow their fishers to partake in aboriginal rights-based fisheries, but DFO was slow to respond.

The lack of effort on DFO’s part caused Nuu-chah-nulth to miss out on the 2010 record abundance sockeye fishery. It was a missed opportunity to test rights-based economic access to a fishery.

In their effort to push forward negotiations with DFO, Nuu-chah-nulth produced a document called the T’aaq-wiihak Statement on Lack of Progress toward Implementing T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries. In it, they say, “the objective of the nations is to implement T’aaq-wiihak fisheries in 2011 to test elements of rights-based fisheries. The negotiations to date do not provide any indication that the nations will achieve this objective.”

The statement outlines the nation’s position with respect to the negotiation process with DFO. It questions DFO’s intent and spells out what NTC has put forward to DFO in an effort to make progress. It was presented to DFO Feb. 25 in Ahousaht.

During the presentation of Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna’s HuupuKwanum, DFO officials and witnesses were seated before the  curtains of Ahousaht’s top three hereditary chiefs. Maquinna, Hayupinulth and Kiista were introduced and statements about their Ha-houlthee and HuupuKwanum were made by their designated speakers. Their speakers told of the powers they have and what they hold as hereditary chiefs. They also described the respect each Ha’wilth has for other hereditary chiefs both nearby and those from outside Nuu-chah-nulth territories.

Tyee Ha’wilth Lewis Maquinna George presented his Huupukwanum, or box of chiefly treasures, and had the contents placed on the floor in front of the audience, showing what he owns. Elder Stanley Sam said a prayer chant as Maquinna’s sisters carefully placed each item on the floor.

 Said Maquinna “We will show them we’ve always had resource management. We want our guys fishing this summer, the mosquito fleet (small boats).”

NTC President Cliff Atleo Sr. interpreted what previous speakers said in Nuu-chah-nulth. Holding Maquinna’s T’aaq-wiihak, providing the authority of Maquinna to allow fishing, Atleo told them it was sacred amongst the Nuu-chah-nulth. The T’aaq-wiihak was passed between the Ha’wiih, others in attendance, and finally presented to DFO RDG Sue Farlinger by Maquinna.

Atleo explained the difference between what DFO knows as governance and the Nuu-chah-nulth form of governance. Gesturing to the Ha’wiih, he said their seats were not dreamed up but were gifts from the Creator. He explained that the HuupuKwanum (an ornate box containing all that the Ha’wiih owns) and its contents tell the history of a chieftainship.

Atleo also explained the concept of Ha-houlthee, which many believe to be the territory a chief claims ownership of.

“It’s not only the land, but also the people and everything else that lies within those boundaries,” he explained.

In old times Atleo said people couldn’t just go harvest anything at will because everything lies with the Ha’wiih, whose permission was needed before taking anything.

Each Ha’wilth had advisors, people who were trained from an early age how to do things like care for a river to ensure the salmon would come back every year. These advisors were called tikawilth.

Ha’wiih respected one another’s boundaries, which Atleo says was clearly defined. Many royal marriages were arranged with strong alliances and access to resources in mind.

“Royalty wed royalty so that you’d have relations from every Nuu-chah-nulth nation and beyond,” said Atleo.

The three present-day top Ahousaht Chiefs have relatives up and down the coast from Neah Bay, Washington to far up north beyond Nuu-chah-nulth territories.

According to Atleo, ownership of the land and resources lies with the Tyee Ha’wilth supported by very knowledgeable advisors.

“So what we’re saying is that Maquinna still has his HuupuKwanum intact and he states very clearly his ownership of (Ahousaht) land, resources and people, and we should not be surprised about our win in court against you because nowhere in history can you see our Tyee giving that up.”

“Our communities have been devastated by DFO policies yet we survived that and our Ha’wiih said ‘let’s share with the newcomers.’ Right from the get-go we asked to engage DFO or we’ll see you in court, and we saw you in court. The story ain’t over but I can tell you the ending. Our Ha’wiih will win,” Atleo declared.

“We have been pushed out from the benefits of aquatic resources and we had no choice but to fight. We continually made offers to help DFO properly manage and share the resources. You need to recognize we’re all here to stay,” Atleo continued.

The ultimate goal of the Nuu-chah-nulth Ha’wiih, said Atleo, is the desire to implement T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries and to honor Madam Justice Garson’s judgment.

“We’ve put together two proposals to get our fishermen out there on an interim basis when the largest sockeye run went by us and not one of us got out there,” Atleo pointed out. “We want to partner with DFO as directed by that judgment to implement that rights-based fishery.”

Noting that time is running out on the second year of Justice Garson’s ruling, Atleo urged DFO to get to work.

“We want to ensure our people get out fishing this spring so that we can all stand before Judge Garson and say we followed her instructions,” said Atleo.

“It’s plain and simple. What we want is to fish,” said Francis Frank of Tla-o-qui-aht. “We challenge DFO to learn from its mistakes…you deny us, we sue you, we win then you deny us again. You’re not learning,” he told the DFO delegation.

Willard Gallic chaired the meeting. He told DFO officials that what they do impacts Nuu-chah-nulth youth. “We ask you to find it in your hearts to recognize us as rightful owners. Open your hearts and be open to sharing,” he implored.

DFO Regional Director General Sue Farlinger said part of her job is to take information gleaned from the meeting to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and, ultimately, the government of Canada. She acknowledged that Nuu-chah-nulth nations have their own governance system. The challenge, she said, was to find a way to make the two systems interact.

She noted that the Nuu-chah-nulth system of governance, from what she learned that morning, seems far easier to work with than the one she works with.

Farlinger went on to tell Nuu-chah-nulth delegates about what DFO is bringing to the table.

“In the next few weeks we anticipate bringing forward quotas,” she said. Their primary focus is ground fish but Farlinger said DFO may bring forward access to salmon and other resources in the near future.

In addition, DFO, she said, would like to put forward funds to purchase vessels and upgrades in the first nations communities. Upgrades could include things like ice plants and totes; things to keep fish fresh for commercial use.

They are also looking at providing resources for monitoring equipment and installation.

“We want to be able to move forward this year to test a licensing and quota system that can be placed on speed boats that meet requirements,” she added. DFO is prepared to move ahead to test and implement key elements of the ruling.

Both Frank and Atleo called the news positive. “We appreciate very much your tone of cooperation,” said Atleo.