Here on the coast, the future of B.C.’s salmon farming sector is at stake and, depending on whether the new Fisheries Minister re-issues the licences of 79 fish farms, so are the livelihoods of hundreds of Indigenous people working in the sector, as well as the economic futures of many coastal First Nations communities.
On Monday, March 21st, leaders from our new coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship gathered (or joined virtually) at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River. There we announced our displeasure with the federal government’s decision-making process regarding salmon farming. We also called on that same government to re-issue the licences in the territories of those Nations who wish to pursue salmon farming in order to respect our rights, title, and goals towards economic self-determination.
We also launched a socio-economic report showing how First Nations benefit from having salmon farming in our territories, creating hundreds of jobs and injecting over $50 million a year for Indigenous communities. We explained that 17 First Nations have a variety of agreements with salmon farming companies. Not all 17 are supportive of salmon farming, with some choosing to transition away from the sector. Many others who wish to pursue the sector formed this new coalition to assert our decision-making rights.
It was important to us during the announcement to emphasize how the coalition respects each Nation’s right to decide for themselves what to do with the resources in their territories, as that is the thread that should bind all Nations, regardless of viewpoints. The reality is that each Nation should be able to make the best decisions for their communities as they see fit.
We know the topic of salmon farms is contentious, and the battle for its future is being fought between the B.C. and federal governments, municipalities, the sector, First Nations, activists, and outsiders who do not hold rights or title in the areas impacted by these decisions.
Unfortunately, some activists have selectively chosen content out of context as an opportunity to pit Nations against one other to suit the needs of their agenda and stir up further contention within our communities. To outsiders and well-funded activists, UNDRIP and self-determination only apply to First Nations that align with their goals, and their never-ending pressure on governments to deprive our Nations of the right to pursue salmon farming puts our communities at risk.
Have you ever asked yourself why it is okay for a Nation to want salmon farms removed while it is not OK for other Nations to want them to remain, in light of current science and governance that supports that? And worse, these activist groups infer pro-farming Nations are being hoodwinked or taken advantage of due them just “not understanding” the consequences of their actions. That is certainly a paternalistic view.
Leaders in this coalition have experienced the devastation that poverty can cause their members, with high unemployment, addiction, and suicide. Salmon farming has lifted entire coastal Indigenous communities out of poverty, creating meaningful, year-round jobs, providing opportunities for First Nations-owned business to supply the sector, and funding projects that increase the health and resilience of communities, as well as wild salmon through conservation projects.
As coastal First Nations, the protection of wild salmon is our priority, and we would not put centuries of stewardship at risk for short-term gains. The ongoing development of relationships with the sector has seen First Nations taking on governance roles that has resulted in oversight of salmon farming within their traditional territories, which is true reconciliation in action. Some of our Nations are already conducting oversight with environmental monitoring and Guardian programs.
By managing the waters and its resources which we have overseen for millennia, coastal First Nations are positioned to lead Canada’s Blue Economy, encourage new investment and innovation, create good jobs for our members, and work together to recover from the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
We can only fulfill that potential if the governments of Canada and B.C. hear our voices over the noise of others, re-issue the licences in our territories, and help our Nations achieve economic self-determination, as is our sovereign right. That is how you practice true reconciliation.
Spokesperson for the coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship