BC First Nations for Finfish Stewardship: “We will choose if, when, and how the sector operates in our waters”

Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.

They seem exhausted not only from waiting, but especially from watching others make – or attempt to make – decisions concerning their territories for them. That is why, through the British Columbia Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS), the leaders of the collective coastal Nations have issued a statement in which they have recalled that, as the right holders and stewards of their lands, waters and elements since time immemorial, they will be recognized as the sovereign governing authorities of their traditional territories. "Regarding finfish aquaculture, we will choose if, when, and how the sector operates in our waters", they stated.

"That is our right, just as it is the right of other Rightsholder Nations to remove fish farms from their territories", they continued. "The longer decisions are delayed on transition or the decision to renew licences in what's known as the 'Discovery Islands', the greater the impact on our Rights and the greater the risk to our sector partners and our economic opportunities".

Prioritizing wild salmon

In its statement, the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship recalled that all First Nations involved in the fish farm debate, whether for, against or neutral, have in common some of the most fundamental values for indigenous peoples: "Rights, title, self-determination, cultural protocols, and the responsibility from the Creator to take care of our earth for many generations ahead of us".

"This prioritizes and will continue to prioritize wild salmon, and we would not put at risk thousands of years of stewardship nor the future of our peoples for short-term monetary gain", they made clear. However, they recalled the Nations have – or are working to have -, their own Guardians and Indigenous stewardship programs to conduct monitoring, sampling, and testing of fish farms in their waters so that we can apply traditional knowledge to Western science to create their own data and make informed decisions in their communities.

"For too long this conversation about this industry has been taking place between everybody except the Nations impacted the most. Activists, eco-colonialists, consultants, governments, and the companies have been at the table guiding the path and narrative of fish farming", they continued. "Only recently has that begun to change", they said, perhaps about the BC Salmon Farmers Association's recent statement advocating an indigenous-led transition plan as the future of salmon farming in British Columbia.

More united than at odds

However, the FNFFS has also been very clear about wild salmon. "Those who believe the migratory nature of wild salmon supersedes those rights are wrong", they stated. The coalition recalled they also depend on wild salmon to feed their people, and that many of those salmon migrate to and from the Fraser River, where various projects and other industrial operations are damaging wild salmon habitat in other First Nations territories.

"If non-Rightsholder Nations want to set a precedent that allows First Nations to impact decisions in other Nations' territories, what will this start, and where does it end? We ask you to re-think that, and to do as our people always have done: trust other Nations to do what is best for their communities, territories, and future generations", they continued.

"We are more united than we are at odds, and our Coalition would like to remind other Nations of that, and push back against those trying to divide us, and divide our communities", they continued. "Only we know the ongoing impacts of colonization in our communities, and in our abilities to prosper. Let us sit down together and remove the middlemen trying to pit us against each other", they concluded.

About the First Nations for Finfish Stewardship

The First Nations for Finfish Stewardship coalition joined together out of shared concern that their rights to make economic decisions for their territories are being ignored. These Nations are calling on the Federal Government to immediately reissue salmon farming licenses in their territories.

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