First Nations raise their voice against Discovery Island licensing decision

“Rejecting this proposal is rejecting our right to decide for ourselves" stated Chief Roberts,the elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Discovery Islands Passage British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Adobe Stock.

The Coalition of the First Nations for Finfish Stewardship is speaking out on the decision by Canada's Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, to non-renew the Discovery Islands salmon farm licenses. For the indigenous community, this has meant went up in smoke their auto-determination rights.

Last week the three major British Columbia salmon producers, Mowi Canada West, Grieg Seafood BC, and Cermaq Canada filed applications for judicial review against the decision of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, for non-renewal of the Discovery Islands salmon farm licenses.

However, not only the companies came out against this decision, but also the Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai. The First Nation coalition is also seeking to overturn the Minister's decision based on indigenous rights, which have not been respected. This week First Nations issued a statement expressing their dissatisfaction with Murray's decision.

Ronnie Chickite, the elected Chief Councillor of the We Wai Kai First Nation stated that "this court challenge is not about whether we support fish farming or not. It is about our inherent right as title holders to decide how our territory is used, and determine for ourselves if, when, and how fish farms could operate in the future." From their point of view the non-renewal licenses is a political decision "heavily influenced by Nations who do not have title in our territory."

First Nations chiefs. Photo by: Coalition of First Nation.

Procedures and justifications make no sense

According to First Nation, they explain that the government's procedure and justifications in terms of sustainability do not make sense. Thus, they explain that the Laich-kwil-tach Nations presented to the Minister in November 2022 a proposal. This proposal was based on a gradual reintroduction process to test fin-fishing operations. It would start with a fish farm operating for one cycle in their core territory under their strict supervision. The data of the research and study led by indigenous people could have provided conclusive data with to make decisions.

As explained by Chris Roberts, the elected Chief Councillor of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation: "after a trial process and further engagement with our members, we would then consider next steps if we could determine for ourselves that impacts of fish farms are minimal or negligible on wild salmon and the environment."

A "clear lack of recognition" of their rights

First Nations have had their decision-making power taken away from them, and their rights are taken away.

"Rejecting this proposal is rejecting our right to decide for ourselves. With our own research and knowledge, whether salmon farming was a fit for our communities," added Chief Roberts. "It's a clear lack of recognition of our inherent right to self-determination."

In their statement, they explain that Minister Murray's decision has set a dangerous precedent for both nations on future decisions. It has also brought uncertainty because the Minister's decision was based on an undefined "enhanced precautionary approach". From their perspective, this statement could have ripple effects on rights, coastal communities, and Canada as a whole.

Their priority has been always the protection

"Our priority is and always has been the protection, stewardship, and restoration of wild Pacific salmon stocks in our territories." Added Chief Chickite. He explained that their "proposal would allow us to conduct Indigenous oversight and monitoring, build Guardian Watchmen programs, and create a holistic approach to managing the marine environment consistent with our self-determination and the protection of wild salmon. However, it can not be.

First Nations trusts that this decision will once again be overturned by the federal court, enabling the Laich-kwil-tach proposal to be considered. With this proposal, the indigenous groups expect that their rights will be recognized as important and that a proper dialogue will be initiated between nations about the creation of a blue economy.

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