(Leaders meet in the Big House on ‘Namgis Territory in northern B.C. with prmier John Horgan and his ministers. Photo: Alexandra Morton)
On a trip to northern B.C., Premier John Horgan met Kwakwakā’wakw Nation leaders to talk about fish farms Tuesday but would not commit to abolishing the open-net cages.
“Any strategy for aquaculture must put a priority on the protection of wild salmon, collaborate with First Nations and acknowledge their interests,” read a statement from Horgan’s office posted online.
While in opposition, B.C. NDP campaigned against the net-pen industry.
Now Horgan is faced with 40 leaders from eight Kwakwakā’wakw Nations that are in an unprecedented united stance against net-pen salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago.
“Remove open-net fish farms from our collective territories,” Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred said he told Horgan at the meeting.
Alfred is from the ‘Nagmis, Lawit’sis and Mamalilikala Nations and has been occupying the Swanson Island Salmon Farm, owned by Marine Harvest, since August 25.
Read More: BC Fish Farms
He and many First Nations say that salmon farms are harming wild salmon stocks and the environment.
They believe that Atlantic salmon sent to fish farms in B.C. carry parasites and diseases.
(Horgan, right, with his ministers in the Big House on ‘Namgis territory in northern B.C. Photo: Alexandra Morton)
The premier, accompanied by Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, flew to Alert Bay, B.C. to hear discussions about the overlapping of territories, salmon security, and fish farms.
“Minister Popham will share the concerns we heard from the people we met with, with the federal minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and press the federal government to work with us, Indigenous communities and industry to map out a sustainable future.”
The leaders at the meeting, both hereditary and elected, of the Mamalilikala, ‘Namgis, Tlowitsis, Mamtagila, and Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw gathered in the Big house on ‘Namgis Territory to present Horgan with their mandate.
The leaders also argued that their demand for the removal of open-net fish farms from their territory is compliant with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
They repeatedly stated in that the fish farms continue to operate within their territory without consent.
“The issue of rights and title are clearly being violated here,” said Alfred.
Horgan’s failure to take specific action did not go over well with the leaders.
Many felt his answer was a typical government response.
“We are making history right now and we need the NDP to choose which side of history they want to stand on,” he said. “The NDP has been given our clear mandate and we expect to hear back from them soon.”
Alfred and his people are worried.
“We don’t have fish and we don’t have food for the winter so were are panicked,” said Alfred. “It’s time for our government to stand with First Nations and the people of BC, if they don’t, then we’ll go speak with a lawyer.”
The united voice of all 40 leaders are committed to their collective goal to evict the net-pen fish farming industry and say the farm occupations will continue.
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