A Vancouver Island First Nation chief schooled four North Island mayors on how Aboriginal Rights work in response to them asking to be let in on Discovery Island fish farm consultations with the federal government.
Last month in a letter addressed to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bernadette Jordan, mayors of Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River asked to be a part of the ongoing consultation process between the minister’s office and seven First Nations with regards to the transitional plight of 18 fish farms in the Discovery Islands.
The mayors cited economic and cultural repercussions that could affect their communities and wanted an opportunity to have their voices “heard and considered” before a “final decision” was made in this matter.
Homalco First Nation chief Darren Blaney is irked that the North Island mayors did not contact the Nations involved directly “before involving other levels of government.”
In a response statement, Blaney said that the mayors’ requests should have first been communicated to the neighbouring First Nations in the “spirit of collaboration and reconciliation.”
“Imagine the surprise felt at reading your request, not in a letter to our own governments, but in the local media,” wrote Blaney in a letter addressed to the mayors.
“Asking to be inserted into a consultation process between First Nations and the Government of Canada is no small request, and is one that I would have much preferred to be discussed among our communities prior to involving other levels of government,” he said in the letter which is also copied to North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and North Island MLA Michele Babchuk.
The Homalco chief also said that the consultation process is a government-to-government undertaking, very much like the ‘Broughton process’ which was recognized by the industry, provincial and federal government and Indigenous governments.
(Blaney is referring to the 2018 consultations that the Namgis, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations had with the province regarding the plight of 17 open-pen finfish farms in Broughton Archipelago. )
“The Cohen Commission specifically set out the requirement for these discussions between existing parties,” Blaney said, and further asked municipal governments to be “respectful during this time” and to reach out to the Nations personally if they wish to discuss the matter.
Fresh out of a meeting with DFO, Blaney told the Mirror that the mayors are rightly not part of the consultation process as it is based on constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Rights.
“The mayors are not aboriginal, they have not been here for thousands of years, they do not have the rights. They don’t have to pass on knowledege about salmon to their next generation. So they are happy with the tax base they collect from the fish farms and that is their only concern,” he said and added, “It’s our culture, territory and its stewardship.”
Along with Homalco First Nation, Jordan’s office is also in talks with Klahoose, Komoks, Kwiakah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai (Cape Mudge) and Wei Wai Kum (Campbell River) First Nations in the region.
Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech is leading the consultations with First Nations, the aquaculture industry and conservation groups on the transition.
Minister Jordan will ultimately conclude whether licences for these farms will be renewed at the end of the year.
The fisheries minister announced that DFO will come up with a plan to transition away from open-net pen salmon farming in B.C.’s waters by 2025.
The Cohen Commission had called for removal of the 18 Discovery Island farms by Sept. 30, unless the health risk was determined to be minimal. While DFO announced on Sept. 28 that the Discovery Island farms pose little risk to wild salmon, opponents of open-net farming cried foul and pointed to a separate study that concluded that the risk was significant.
– With files from Zoe Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Black Press Media.