The pair of B.C. First Nations say they are done with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) controlling aquaculture and fisheries in their traditional waters and intend to assert local control.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations (GNN) — currently based in the Port Hardy area of northern Vancouver Island — have announced the pending creation a Memorandum Of Understanding to assert control over fisheries in their traditional territories.
At a March 25 ceremony at Port Hardy’s Seagate wharf, GNN’s former elected chief Paddy Walkus said what has been happening historically to the nations in their own lands thanks to federal fisheries policies is not right.
“We now have to take a stand, we now have to express something that is so vital to the existence of our people and our own land and territories… we need to take back the control, take back what was rightfully ours, because at no time did we give any kind of OK to anyone to do the management or caretaking of our resources, in particular the fisheries resource.
“We all know what has happened recently, the decimation of all species of fish in all of our waters… the harm that has happened through the mismanagement of DFO.”
Walkus asserted the nations will now be instating their traditional laws, stating they are going to “take over that part of legislation that has oppressed us for too long.”
He confirmed that this means they will control the licensing of the finfish industry within all of their traditional territories.
GNN councillor Darryl Coon said it is time for GNN’s chief and council to take the “monumental step to take back what’s rightfully ours, the waters of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territories.
“For far too long we have allowed DFO to do what they’ve done, the lies, the deceits, everything above and below it, DFO has done this for years and years and years and today’s the day we are going to take it back.”
Coon’s voice broke as he talked about how they are doing this for the future generations of GNN youth.
“It’s for these guys that we stand up today and fight back for what’s rightfully ours… for all the children of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw nations.”
GNN Band Manager Leslie Walkus said the Memorandum Of Understanding is being supported by neighbouring coastal First Nations. He said the Memorandum of Understanding will be built upon all the salmon research the nations have done over the years.
“We are putting DFO on notice that they’re not going to come to the North Island and make decisions about important jobs and about the territory that belong to these chiefs,” said Leslie. “We are going to take this on ourselves, because we are capable of doing it ourselves.”
“Under the guidance of our hereditary leadership, our elders and our matriarchs, we are taking the step of building a legislative framework,” he said. “As our first step, we are looking at aquaculture.”
Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas said the North Island’s economic future will prosper with everyone working together.
“It’s a partnership. We’re all in this together. It’s about us all working together. As we grow together, I know that we can prosper together.”
Black Press Media has reached out to DFO for comment from DFO and will update this story when they respond.