First Nation, that is calling for an Aquaculture Zone in its traditional territories, signs historic agreement to determine how its land, water and natural resources will be managed.

‘Wild and farmed salmon can both exist in our waters’

First Nation, that is calling for an Aquaculture Zone in its traditional territories, signs historic agreement to determine how its land, water and natural resources will be managed.

By Fabian Dawson

A BC First Nation, that is calling for an Aquaculture Zone in its traditional territories, has signed a new agreement that will further advance treaty negotiations to determine how its land, water and natural resources will be managed.

The new tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw (GNN), Canada and British Columbia governments marks their united entry into Stage 5 of treaty negotiations, where the parties negotiate a final covenant.

“The MOU represents common hard-won understandings of the unique circumstances of our Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations who in 1964 were forcibly relocated out of our homelands,” said Colleen Hemphill, GNN’s chief negotiator.

 The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw  , are two Nations which were amalgamated under the Indian Act, after they were forced to relocate from their traditional territories to Port Hardy in 1964.

At the event yesterday, GNN leadership also broke ground alongside Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs, at the site of the Gukwdzi (Bighouse) Project.

The Gukwdzi Project was made possible due in part to the funding contribution of $8.9 million from the Government of Canada’s Cultural Spaces in Indigenous Communities Program. The Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation has been without a culturally centered space since their forcible relocation to the Tsulquate Reserve more than 50 years ago.

“Every Nation has a safe place where they hold ceremonies. Where important events in life are marked, like a child’s arrival, coming of age, marriage, and funerals. We, Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw have not had this for almost half a century since we were relocated out of our own Homelands,” said GNN Chief Terry Walkus.

“This bighouse will be that place, that safe place where we can do our business. It will serve us where we can come to celebrate, express who we are, what families we are tied to, and our connections to the lands through our ceremonies,” he said.

“The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding provides the foundation to move ahead on a treaty with the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nations based on their community priorities in a process jointly developed by the parties,” said Miller.

“By working together, we are developing new approaches towards reconciliation which will support the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nations in building a better future for their community and implementing their vision of self-determination for this generation and many to come,” he said.

Last March, the GNN called for the creation of an Aquaculture Zone in its traditional territory, where it plans to administer the licensing regimes for salmon and shellfish farms while ensuring wild stocks are not overfished.

The GNN said the proposed North Island Aquaculture Zone will be a key milestone on the path to self-governance.

“We are working towards sustainability of both fisheries and aquaculture…they can both exist in our waters, but it should be our community that decides what that looks like for our Traditional Territory,” said Ethan Shaw, GNN’s Salmon Farm Monitor.

Fish farmer, Mowi Canada West operates five salmon farms in partnership with Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw.

The licences for these five salmon farms, and 74 others, were recently renewed for only two years as the Federal Government, pressured by anti-fish farming activists, works to develop a plan by 2025 to transition all open net salmon farms on the west coast.

The GNN in a statement said the recent decision by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to renew salmon aquaculture licenses in BC for only two-year terms fails to consider Nations’ rights, economic stability, and the Federal government’s own reconciliation agenda.

“Ottawa’s decision tells us it is more concerned about virtue-signalling than actually seeking reconciliation with Indigenous Nations,” said Chief Walkus.

“Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation is firm: we have authority to make decisions across our own traditional territory, as do other Nations,” he said.

“If the Canadian government cannot enable a policy climate for new research and technology in the industry, then companies have no incentive to stay and invest in BC’s infrastructure, and many First Nations stand to lose not just revenue and business, but a viable livelihood that supports connection to our lands and waters.

“Rural communities and their people need stable, family-supporting jobs to stay and support British Columbia and Canada in supplying healthy seafood to a growing world population,” said GNN Hereditary Chief Paddy Walkus.

“We have witnessed the decline of our wild fish in Smith Inlet where there are no farms. We need to take a stand and do right by our ancestors – and that means doing what it takes for our community by developing an economic base for self-government and self-determination,” he said.

“The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’x people are committed to creating and sharing a prosperous future for ourselves and for our local communities. This is what reconciliation looks like. It’s happening in communities like Port Hardy. It makes the future look hopeful.”

The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) recently released an analysis that showed the direct economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC exceed $50 million annually through more than 276 full time jobs, benefit payments, and contracts with indigenous-owned companies.

In total, when indirect and induced economic activity is factored in, First Nation interests in BC’s farmed salmon sector on and off reserves are estimated to generate $83.3 million in economic activity, $47.8 million in GDP, and 707 jobs earning $36.6 million in wages per year.

Eighty per cent of the salmon farms in BC operate in agreements with the First Nations in whose territories the fish are grown and harvested in.

The GNN’s declaration to control fishing and farming in their traditional waters is an example of the increased assertion of Indigenous rights, which is also in the collective interests of the environment and all Canadians, said the   Macdonald-Laurier Institute   in a recently published op-ed.

“Indigenous involvement in ecological affairs must be embraced, not rejected. Indigenous engagement provides a valuable counterbalance to traditional ecological management by governments,” the op-ed read.

(File image of Paddy Walkus, Hereditary Chief of Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nation, speaking about the legacy and opportunities at the grand opening of the Kwa’lilas Hotel)