BC Indigenous Coalition Discusses the Salmon Farm Industry

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Chief Chris Roberts, left

OTTAWA -- Mar 7, 2023 -- Chris Roberts, elected chief councillor, Wei Wai Kum First Nation, based out of Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, in coastal British Columbia, spoke in Ottawa today.

"It's through our rights and title that we must have a say on how, if and what kind of salmon farming can take place in our territories, in our backyards, where we have lived for millenia.

"After the disrespectful and damaging decisions to close  salmon farms in my territory the Laichwiltach People, in the Discovery Island without proper consent of the rights holders, we at the coalition can no longer trust that the minister Murray can deliver a thoughtful, unbiased transition plan for the remaining salmon in our sovereign territories.

"That is very worrisome as I stand here with my brothers and sisters . . . 

"We as First Nations, we are the original environmentalists, not the fancy downtown activists that you hear about.

"Our people have been looking after wild salmon for thousands of years, and we continue to do so through our guardian programs and our monitors, and we will continue to do so.

"People 5,000 km away will not be making political activist driven decisions for ancient nations that have been stewards of our lands and waters and resources, since time immemorial.

"Now we know there are divergent views on salmon farming among First Nations on the coast of British Columbia. And that's their right. But it's also our right as First Nations to be able to say, YES.

"If a nation can say no to a resource extraction development activity in their territory, they should be able to say yes. And that's because it's done on their terms, on terms that are set out by the laws and traditions of our people.

"Those laws and traditions guide how business is carried out and how things are to be monitored properly.

"This enduring stewardship obligation that I talk about is bestowed to all of us by the Creator of the territories that we call our home, all across Turtle Island.

"And we must respect each other as sovereign nations, and trust in each other that we will uphold those. And when we disagree, we should come together nation-to-nation to talk about our difference of opinion to find areas of compromise, and to seek to understand how we might be able to move forward collaboratively.

"The DFO minister Murray's decision to close all salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, against the wishes of the right's holder nations, in our case the Laichwiltach people, has set a dangerous precedent.

"Not only does it mean that the rest of the transition planning process for the sector is unstable, it threatens salmon farm operations in the rest of the territories where the nations want those farms to operate.

"More importantly, her decision has threatened rights holder First Nations ability to pursue their self-determination, and their right to economic reconciliation by allowing outside influences to make decisions in our territories.

"Just a little bit more about the proposal that was put forward from the Laichwiltach Nations, we were seeking to understand what the impacts are, every sector, every single activity in our territories have an impact, and it's our responsibility to understand what those are, to determine if we can come to grips with it and manage them in a way that is sustainable, and in keeping with our true values and traditions.

"It's really sad that our proposal was unaccepted, because it's a lost opportunity. The opportunity that existed was to advance our guardian watchmen programs, our fisheries stewardship technicians, to directly participate in the research and monitoring to evaluate the impact from salmon farming on the environment and on wild salmon.

"I am not going to deny those exist, but as we talk about a transition, as this government likes to call it, we wanted to be on the front lines of what that would be, to embrace new innovations and the possibility of new technologies that could be implemented to reduce or eliminate the risks to wild salmon.

"And the fact that our proposal was disregarded is troubling. It sends a signal that I don't know if there was ever a genuine interest in supporting a transition.

"And so to just kind of mandate something to land-based in this case, it doesn't make sense to me, because there's a lot of evidence and investment across the world where this has been attempted, and maybe it will be figured out one day, but if we talk about a transition and going towards something better, we have to embrace and work with what we have now.

"To try and flick it off like a switch I think it flies in the face of what is required to have investment in research and development and bring new innovations.

"So we call on Prime Minister Trudeau to pass a critical file on to more responsible and unbiased minister to complete. We strongly recommend the minister of Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation, the Hon Mark Miller, for this job.

"We are also fathers and mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, like you, who want to see our families succeed and communities thrive and have a promising future.

"Like you, we want our people to have good jobs, and like you we want everyone to be able to afford healthy food and put food on their tables for their families.

"The government of Canada is on a dangerous track, with policy decisions to close sustainable farming in our waters. They are suggesting that we grow Canadian salmon on land, even the B.C. government says it's not feasible, and at this point in time it does not make sense.

"We have with us, an example here, the salmon that you see, it was not grown in Canadian waters, where it could have been or should have been. It was not grown in any of our territories, where it could have been and should have been.

"It was not processed by workers in the community of Klemtu of the Kitasoo/Xai'Xais, or the community of Port Hardy on north Vancouver Island, because Minster Murray has severely impacted the production of the salmon farming industry by closing down farms in our territory, and we're concerned of the track that might continue on with the rest of the coast.

"The piece of salmon was flown all the way from Norway or Chile, thousands of kilometres away, and when you think about the net effect and of citizens of the planet that we care for, of climate change, and carbon emissions, how is that sustainable?

"And because of decisions by Minister Joyce Murray, this costs you and your family more on your grocery bills to put this healthy meal on your table for your family. 

"I'm not sure what the price of it says, but I think, uh, yikes!" he looks at the label on the package, "It's $55 for this slab of salmon, something that would have previously costed around $30.

"And this piece of salmon is going to become even more unaffordable for you and your families if these decisions continue, not only because it's imported from far away, but because we no longer have the jobs of farming salmon in the communities.

"And we have also been fishing nations, it's engrained in my blood for several generations. But we are also salmon farming nations as we stand here together, and we are coastal nations.

"And we should have the right to say what happens in our territory.

"This is an important job that we have, and I am reminded by some of my Elders and people in my community that often have a difficult time coming to grips with various industries, because of their perceived impact, but when we talk about it, we're reminded that, as newcomers came to our territories, balance has been disrupted from day one, and we have constantly had to adapt to changing times.

"A lot of the things that are being sought to protect are the commercial salmon industry, which I am proud of my family's participation for many years, but an industrial full scale commercial fishery on the whole coast of British Columbia with countless canneries dotting the coastline, that was not our way as a people, but we were participants in that and we embraced it.

"Unfortunately, our rights to make decisions on how that fishery would be managed were not recognized early enough and we are suffering the consequences of a vast reduction of salmon on the coast.

"So when we look at a new industry like salmon farming, we're also meeting it head on, embracing it for the opportunity that it could be, and ensuring that things are happening on our terms. 

"And that's very important because each nation is distinct and unique, and have their own set of laws and values that must be upheld, for this industry to continue."