A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)

A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)

B.C. chiefs say Discovery Island fish farm process did not get reconciliation right

Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai chiefs say feds, province and industry all missed opportunities

Two Vancouver Island First Nations’ chiefs broke their silence this week, saying the federal Discovery Islands fish farm process was filled with missed opportunities.

Campbell River area Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai were among seven First Nations that federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan consulted prior to her decision to phase out 19 Discovery Islands fish farms by 2022.

But the chiefs said that even though the decision aligned with the sentiment of their communities in favour of removing open-pen farms from the ocean, the process was hollow.

Chief Chris Roberts of Wei Wai Kum First Nation said they were given inadequate time to have a “pragmatic dialogue” with Jordan and were dissatisfied with the way the process was conducted.

The First Nations were left with no alternatives, nor were they given the opportunity to arrive at an autonomous decision through the principles of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Instead they were left ‘wearing the decision’ the federal government made for them.

Roberts said he is not a proponent/supporter of the aquaculture industry and shares the serious concerns of his community about the impact of open-pen fish farming in its traditional territory.

“I’m not trying to give false hopes to the industry that we might have arrived at some sort of permission for them to stay, but it certainly could have been done in a way that was not so abrupt.”

But as an elected chief with a background in economics and privy to understanding the full picture of the economic consequences of decisions, Roberts said there are several missed opportunities for everyone involved.

And according to him, no one is off the hook for the consequences of this decision – the federal and provincial government and aquaculture industry included.

Former We Wai Kai chief Brian Assu said they were “railroaded” by the federal government’s decision, in a virtual Q & A meeting with MLA Michele Babchuk.

“We literally had 30 minutes between Wei Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum to consult with the minister and out of that, 15 minutes of it basically was telling us that she was going to announce her decision,” said Assu.

“When I say we got railroaded, I really truly mean that… That’s our traditional territory and the (federal) government decided to base their decision on all external parties to us – including other First Nations. It was a mess,” said Assu.

The actual site of the fish farms comes under core Laichwiltach territory (We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwaikah) and overlaps with four other First Nations (Tla’amin, Klahoose, Homalco, K’ómoks). But apart from these Nations, there were other commentators brought in to the discussion, said Roberts.

Lumping a broader regional group of First Nations into the process was unnecessary, as it interfered with the autonomy of the title-holding Nations in their jurisdiction, according to Roberts.

He is also disappointed with the process because all the rhetoric of reconciliation and commitment to UNDRIP were nothing more than “window dressings.” According to him, the government did not get reconciliation right as it was not a “genuine consultation process” and they weren’t afforded the opportunity to arrive at a decision on their own terms.

“If they’re going to recognize us as title holders in these areas, and it’s going to be our decision, then let’s establish the process that helps us arrive at a decision in a responsible way.”

Instead of a shared decision making process or a consent-based model, it was the same old consult – where the minister hears your concerns (and Roberts gives Jordan the due recognition for listening to the concerns from the First Nations’ perspective) but still has the ultimate decision making power, he said.

“So even though it appears that the minister got it right this time, the risk is that nothing will change,” said Roberts with regards to future consultations.

He feels that Jordan’s decision was more of a political move to meet Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2019 election mandate that promised to remove open-pens from B.C.’s waters by 2025.

When asked about the First Nations’ dissatisfaction with the consultation process, Jordan’s office told the Mirror that prior to the decision to phase out the first farms in the Discovery Islands, the minster met directly with First Nations in the Discovery Islands, and “every effort” was made to have meaningful consultation.

“Our relationship with these Indigenous communities is extremely important, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure they have a say in the economic activity that occurs on their territory,” said Jordan in the statement.

The federal decision has been met with criticism from the industry and political leaders who have repeatedly pointed out the economic repercussions and jobs lost through this process.

Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan criticized the federal government’s handling of the Discovery Islands consultation process.

But Roberts calls Horgan’s criticism “ironic” because they had approached the province to table a Broughton-like process before the federal government got involved.

But according to Roberts, the “door was shut without an explanation to us as to why.”

READ MORE: Horgan chastising feds for Discovery Islands fish farm decision ‘ironic’: First Nation chief

As far as economic repercussions are concerned, the decision hit Wei Wai Kum’s businesses too.

The status quo the aquaculture industry was operating on was not okay, and for First Nations saving wild salmon and environmental sustainability will always be foremost priority. But probably there were missed opportunities for the industry too, said Roberts.

“I really wish there would be more appetite to explore things like land-based aquaculture, he said and added, “or even closed containment.”

He is tired of hearing the industry say that land based aquaculture is not a feasible option for them.

“I’d like to see them step up and prove it or disprove it. Until then I don’t buy it,” he said.

READ ALSO: Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

READ ALSO: Canada ‘stole Christmas’ says Vancouver Island’s aquaculture industry

READ ALSO: Chief says push for fish farm judicial review a challenge to reconciliation, Aboriginal Rights

First NationsFish Farms

Just Posted

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

..
Four Paws Food Bank-Barriere helps area pet owners

Leia Kett (as in Star War’s Princess Leia) has been a Barriere… Continue reading

Barriere resident Donna Genier was happy to be able to gather with a small group of family and close friends to play a game of scrub last Sunday at the Barriere ball fields in memory of her youngest son Kurt Genier. Kurt passed unexpectedly in 2014 Since then, starting in 2015 an annual Memorial Slow Pitch Baseball Tournament has been held in Barriere to remember the young man who loved to play baseball. Unfortunately, the tourney had to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. (Elli Kohnert photo)
Kurt Genier remembered with ball game in Barriere

The annual Kurt Genier Memorial Slow Pitch Ball Tournament was not able… Continue reading

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

logo
Evacuation alert issued for residents south of Lytton

The TNRD Emergency Operations Centre in Kamloops says a wildfire in the area poses a threat to structures and residents.

Most Read