First Nations rights emphasized to DFO during Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries

Tofino, BC

The Nuu-chah-nulth Council of Ha’wiih gathered at Tin Wis on Feb. 15 and 16 to talk about fisheries access and conservation, along with a host of other fisheries-related topics.

The Ha’wiih and their delegates started by paying tribute to late Ha’wilth Jerry Jack who was described as humble and dignified. “He never announced that he was a chief. He didn’t have to, he walked like a chief,” said Cliff Atleo Sr.

Moving on to the agenda, NTC Fisheries Manager Eric Angel delivered a report on action items from the last Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries which took place in October 2017. One of the directives on herring was that a letter be written to DFO communicating the Ha’wiih’s decision that only food and ceremonial fisheries will be permitted for a period of up to four years or until there is agreement between Nuu-chah-nulth nations and DFO that the west coast of Vancouver Island herring populations have recovered.

The response from Minister Dominic LeBlanc to the NTC says that the minister has asked DFO to consider this in the planning for 2017/2018, in the Management Strategy Evaluation and in the development of rebuilding plans. “As the peer-reviewed science advice becomes available, DFO will share this through its ongoing engagement processes with Indigenous people and various stakeholders so that the decision-making process is transparent and collaborative,” he wrote.

“Hesquiaht is ready to go fishing, we’re ready to exercise our rights,” said Hesquiaht elected Chief Richard Lucas. He went on to say that the late Dr. Simon Lucas fought for 40 years for Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights. “Do we want to leave this to our grandchildren to carry on the fight? I don’t think so,” he added.

NTC President Judith Sayers noted the government’s continued lack of action when it comes to First Nations and fisheries. “It’s so disrespectful to our Ha’wiih the way government disregards your rights,” she said.

Uu-a-thluk Capacity Building Coordinator Michelle Colyn delivered a brief overview of the Uuu-a-thluk Strategic Plan which will help guide the work of Uu-a-thluk for the next five years.

The primary goals of the strategic plan are to increase food, societal and ceremonial access to fisheries for Nuu-chah-nulth people and to continue work to implement Nuu-chah-nulth economic fishing rights. These goals are consistent with Uu-a-thluk’s focus area of access to and management of resources for Nuu-chah-nulth people. They also work on ways to get more Nuu-chah-nulth-aht working in jobs related to the ocean.

The Council of Ha’wiih renewed the appointment of Cliff Atleo and Phillip Edgar to the Halibut Advisory Board and agreed to support the nomination of Philip Edgar as a Commissioner with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. 

Barney Williams of Tla-o-qui-aht was appointed as an advisor to the Implementation Committee.

There was discussion around the table about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Feb. 14 announcement that the Government of Canada will develop, in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples, a recognition and implementation of rights framework.

In a statement from Ottawa issued Feb. 14, 2018, the government acknowledges the long struggle of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to prove that their rights exist and to have them recognized and fully implemented. “To truly renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada must make the recognition and implementation of rights the basis for all relations between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government,” reads the statement.

NTC President Sayers noted that this is a government initiative. The federal government, Sayers said, wants an implementation of rights framework rather than going to court. “It sounds like lengthy process that involves public consultation,” she said, adding that if it goes ahead, it will need to be properly resourced. “Treaty is long, so is T’aaq-wiihak; it’s a shame that we have to go to a framework when we know what our rights are,” she added.

NTC Fisheries Manager Eric Angel reported that there are lots of processes going on with DFO, including the ongoing Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations between Canada and the US. According to a briefing note prepared by Don Hall, the two countries have been negotiating five chapters since 2017: Chinook, Coho, Chum, and two other related to transboundary and northern fisheries, not relevant to Nuu-chah-nulth.

Tentative agreement has been reached on the Coho and Chum chapters. While the changes are relatively minor, according to Hall, none of them will have much if any impact on Nuu-chah-nulth Coho and Chum concerns. “Most of Nuu-chah-nulth concerns related to Coho and Chum are ‘domestic’ concerns with DFO assessment and management process,” he said.

In contrast, the PST chinook chapter is of great importance to Nuu-chah-nulth-aht whose primary interests are conservation, the harvest of chinook passing through their territories and the protection of endangered chinook stocks in their waters.

Both countries are concerned about conservation and are making proposals and counterproposals aimed at reducing chinook harvest rates, but the parties are at an impasse. Further negotiation dates were set for February and March 2018.

Negotiations for the PST Sockeye Chapter are set to begin in 2019.

Hugh Braker, Tseshaht, recommended that the Council of Ha’wiih demand from Canada consultation prior to ratification of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. “We do not have a commitment from Canada to come back to you before they ratify,” Braker pointed out. The Ha’wiih agreed and directed Uu-a-thluk staff to follow up.

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