Nuu-chah-nulth leaders gather in Vancouver Oct. 16, 2016 for a press conference addressing the nations' commercial fishing rights. A federal decision on how Canada will support a court decision in favour of Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights has been postponed until February 2018. (File photo)
Top federal officials delivered a message to lead negotiators of the five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations involved in an ongoing fisheries court case that they may not present a reconciliation agreement before cabinet this fall as previously promised - and it could be as late as February 2018.
“We entered into a so-called ‘reconciliation process’ with senior staff of INAC and DFO over six months ago,” said Francis Frank, lead negotiator for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. “ From our perspective, this is just another government stalling instead of taking action.”
“This is not acceptable as these nations have already waited eight years to implement a favourable court ruling,” said NTC President Judith Sayers.
The five First Nations made the decision to launch the NTC fisheries court case in 2001 after failed aboriginal fisheries rights negotiations during the treaty process. After years of preparation and 123 days in court a decision came in 2009, when the BC Supreme Court ruled in favor of the five nations (Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinekintaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht), recognizing their constitutionally-protected aboriginal rights to commercially fish and sell fish harvested within their territories.
“We have been patient and willing to work with government to implement the 2009 decision by the B.C. Supreme Court to recognize the five Nuu-chah-nulth nations’ aboriginal rights to commercially catch and sell all species harvested within their territories,” said NTC President Sayers. “But now our patience is wearing thin as the federal government has been stalling too long.”
The nations are calling on the government to prove that they are serious about reconciliation. “Our fishers have been waiting since 2009 to fish and sell all species in our territories,” said Cliff Atleo, lead negotiator for Ahousaht. “This government has been in power for two years now, and we have yet to see any real evidence of the ‘new relationship’ promised by Prime Minister Trudeau.”
“Our fishers and communities are living in poverty with unacceptable levels of unemployment,” said Elected Hesquiaht Chief Richard Lucas. “Yet right out in front of our communities are fishing jobs waiting for our people if this government will get on with it and do the right thing, like they keep saying they what to.”
Sayers pointed out that the courts provided until May 2012 for the First Nations and government to negotiate a new fisheries regime based on the recognition of the aboriginal right - yet this still remains unresolved.
“If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau means what he says about reaching a path to reconciliation with the First Nations, then we as Nuu-chah-nulth want to see actual on-the-ground and ‘on-the-water’ changes that support his promise,” said Sayers. “Ottawa has talked a good talk lately, yet our fishers are still living in poverty with little to no opportunities for employment in our communities.”
“Two years in government is long enough for the Liberals to back up their words with real action that will make a difference to our communities and we call on them to act now,” she said.