Coalition discusses DFO’s dismissal of First Nations’ rights in Discovery Islands decision
March 7, 2023
By Maryam Farag
Chiefs and leaders of the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) have held a news conference on Parliament Hill to discuss federal policy decisions relating to the sustainable salmon farming industry in British Columbia.
They are also there to emphasize the negative impact of current federal government policy decisions to remove salmon farms on Indigenous rights and title issues, food security, affordability, jobs, and reconciliation in rural, coastal and Indigenous communities.
This Coalition of Nations from coastal British Columbia is united in their disappointment with the recent decision by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, to not respect the sovereign authority of the Laich-kwil-tach First Nations in the area known as the Discovery Islands to decide if, when, or how they want to operate sustainable, finfish aquaculture in their traditional waters.
“After the disrespectful and damaging decision to close salmon farms in my territory in the Discovery Islands without consent of Rights holder First Nations, we as a Coalition can no longer trust that Minister Murray can deliver a thoughtful, unbiased transition plan for the remaining salmon farms in the sovereign territories of Nations that wish to host them,” said Chris Roberts, Elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation. “It makes no sense that the Government of Canada is trying to shut down any sustainable salmon farming supported by Nations when DFO’s own science says just that – it is sustainable. We call on Prime Minister Trudeau and his entire Cabinet to ensure a clear and transparent transition process with a new and unbiased Minister who understands our issues and respects reconciliation, science, the environment and the economy for everyone.”
“We are the original environmentalists, not the fancy downtown activists. We have stewarded wild salmon for thousands of years, and our guardians and monitors continue to protect it. We protect the wild salmon while at the same time exploring opportunities of a growing sustainable salmon farming industry that supports the future of our communities in keeping with the laws and traditions of our people,” added Roberts.
Forty per cent of salmon farms have already been removed from B.C. waters to date, and the result has been damaging economically to coastal communities. It has also caused an increased cost of two farmed salmon to Canadian families, and a bigger carbon imprint from flying farmed salmon in from countries like Norway and Chile.
“We are very worried, and Canadians should be worried too. Minister Murray is on a path to reduce or eliminate salmon farming in Canada. She is ignoring the science of her own department. She is ignoring our voices, and has demonstrated she can’t be trusted,” said Isaiah Robinson, Councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation. “Canadians in any resource industry would resent their jobs being wiped out by the bias of one Minister in Ottawa, especially when there are no new jobs in their communities to replace them.”
“Like other Canadians, we want our people to have good jobs. And like other Canadians, we want families to be able to afford healthy food. These government policies are making salmon more expensive for everyone,” added Robinson.
While other groups call on Minister Murray to force all salmon farms to be built on land, recent feasibility reports have been reaffirming the concern that large-scale land-based salmon farming is not yet viable economically or technologically.
“Land-based is not possible in these Nations’ territories. The B.C. government conducted its own feasibility study on whether it is viable, and it is not,” said Albert Charlie, hereditary chief and councillor of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation. “Forcing First Nations to ‘transition’ to land-based technology that isn’t ready means they will lose the industry completely and their communities will be devastated.”
The Coalition understands that other Nations want a different path for salmon farming, and some are also currently in Ottawa to put forward their input on the transition of the salmon farming sector.
“We invite our fellow Nations to sit down together on this issue, Nation-to-Nation, while visiting the territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation,” said hereditary chief Harvey Robinson of the Kitasoo Xai’xais. “Let’s listen to one another – and respect one another, we all want to do what’s best for our own territories.”
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