Stz’uminus denies access to its waters

Stz’uminus First Nation to prohibit access to its waters in Kulleet Bay, toward Dodds Narrows and south to Sansum Narrows and Active Pass.

Lindsay Chung

the chronicle

Late Friday afternoon, the Stz’uminus First Nation took the step to prohibit access to its waters in Kulleet Bay, up toward Dodds Narrows and south to Sansum Narrows and Active Pass.

Until further notice, Stz’uminus First Nation will prohibit access to its Core Territory in the Salish Sea by all vessels, including but not limited to, commercial fishing vessels, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) vessels, and any non-native civilians and government officials.

In a letter sent to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea Friday, May 2, Stz’uminus First Nation Chief John Elliott explained that Stz’uminus First Nation and neighboring nations have been left with no recourse but to re-claim their Core Territory in the Salish Sea.

“The Stz’uminus people have continually occupied our territory along the Salish Sea for countless generations — thousands of years before European arrival,” he wrote. “The ongoing actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have failed to follow federal Aboriginal Consultation and Accommodation laws, failed to appropriately manage or allow for co-management of fisheries within our territory and, ultimately, have failed to recognize Aboriginal Rights and Title.”

First Nations never ceded their rights to any of their resources or land, and Aboriginal Rights — the practices, customs and traditions unique to First Nations that First Nations participated in prior to contact with Europeans — which are separate from Treaty Rights, are “constitutionally protected and cannot be extinguished by any government,” explained Elliott.

In his letter, Elliott states that DFO must make “swift and sweeping changes to their procedures and policies to appropriately accommodate Aboriginal Rights and Title.”

“The DFO continues to favour existing commercial monopolies and continues to inadequately consult with aboriginal groups when enacting policy,” he wrote. “Due to its gross mismanagement and failure to follow government mandates, we can no longer allow the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to manage fisheries within our territory. We cannot stand by while fish stocks within our territory continue to be depleted and our rights ignored.”

Elliott also sent a letter to B.C. fisheries sectoral groups, such as the Underwater Harvesters Association and the BC Shellfish Farmers, stating that: “We understand that this [action] will create challenges for all parties, and we would like to firmly state that our fight is not with the commercial harvesters. Our fight is with the DFO alone, and our hope is to compel them to follow Canadian law when enacting new policy and change their existing policies surrounding aboriginal access accordingly.”

Ray Gauthier, CEO of Stz’uminus First Nation’s Coast Salish Development Corporation, says they have been trying to work with DFO for five years, particularly around geoduck harvesting.

“We’ve tried to works tim them,” he said. “We don’t like sending out the kind of messages we sent out on Friday, but at the end of the day, we’re tired of being ignored.”

Gauthier feels First Nations need to be a bigger part of the management, and he wants to see the nation’s Aboriginal Rights and Titles protected and see them be part of a consultation program if the DFO is going to change any policies.

He says the DFO is managing their resources poorly, and one of the points of contention is a lack of meaningful consultation.

Like Elliott, Gauthier emphasizes that they aren’t taking this position because they want to hurt commercial fisheries — they’re doing this because they feel their community must take action.

“We’re concerned about safety,” said Gauthier. “It’s not like we like to do this. We don’t know what else to do. We’re frustrated … We know this is a David and Goliath thing, but if we don’t do anything, nothing’s going to happen.”

In response to Elliott’s letter, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Ocean Minister Gail Shea stated: “Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages fisheries resources to allow for sustainable fishing opportunities. Officials are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Stz’uminus to understand their concerns and interest. When needed, DFO and the RCMP work with fishermen and members of the First Nations to ensure the safety of everyone on the water. We stand strongly against violence on the water.”

First Nation’s Coast Salish Development Corporation, says they have been trying to work with DFO for five years, particularly around geoduck harvesting.

“We’ve tried to work with them,” he said. “We don’t like sending out the kind of messages we sent out on Friday, but at the end of the day, we’re tired of being ignored.”

Gauthier feels First Nations need to be a bigger part of the management, and he wants to see the nation’s Aboriginal Rights and Titles protected and see them be part of a consultation program if DFO is going to change any policies.

He says the DFO is managing their resources poorly, and one of the points of contention is a lack of meaningful consultation.

Like Elliott, Gauthier emphasizes that they aren’t taking this position because they want to hurt commercial fisheries — they’re doing this because they feel their community must take action.

“We’re concerned about safety,” said Gauthier. “It’s not like we like to do this. We don’t know what else to do. We’re frustrated … We know this is a David and Goliath thing, but if we don’t do anything, nothing’s going to happen.”

In response to Elliott’s letter, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Ocean Minister Gail Shea stated:

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages fisheries resources to allow for sustainable fishing opportunities. Officials are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Stz’uminus to understand their concerns and interest. When needed, DFO and the RCMP work with fishermen and members of the First Nations to ensure the safety of everyone on the water.”

 

 

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