This First Nations fisheries discussion aims to cast a net around common ground

The 2023 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase runs June 1 and 2 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Dallas Smith at the 2022 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase.

Contrary to many narratives floating about the public sphere, the issue of open-net salmon farming in BC is not an open-and-shut case.

There is a belief that all First Nations are opposed to this industry, but what of those who support those operations and depend on them for their livelihoods?

This is where the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) enters the discussion. Made up of several First Nations spanning Vancouver Island and the central coast, this is a group that sees a sustainable future in salmon farming. And they’ll have their say at the Resource Works supported upcoming 2023 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase (IPSS), which runs June 1 and 2 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

As part of the showcase, the FNFSS will feature in a discussion entitled, “Charting a Path to Sustainable Indigenous-led Seafood Partnerships.”

It’s a discussion that aims to navigate through stormy waters to a future that’s mutually beneficial to First Nations and all Canadians.

The speakers will include Dallas Smith (Na̲nwak̲olas Council), Chief Chris Roberts (We Wai Kum First Nation), Councillor Isaiah Robinson (Kitasoo / Xai'xais Nation) and Dave Stover from Brown’s Bay Packing.

“There’s an industry that’s going to be moving forward in some form and I believe there’s a lot of interest both from industry and First Nations to look at how we can start fresh from a place of collaboration,” explains Squamish Nation hereditary Chief and IPSS chair, Ian Campbell.

Top-of-mind during that session will be the federal government’s recent decision to not renew licences for 15 open-net Atlantic salmon farms around British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

“That was a controversial decision,” Campbell explains. “There were Indigenous people who were for and against that decision and it was one that was largely made by the federal government with very little consultation with local communities. Out of that came a lot of frustration, but we’re also seeing a lot of activity and ideas about the path forward.”

While these issues are somewhat new to Canada’s West Coast, they are not on the other side of the nation.

Chief Terry Paul and Dallas Smith at the 2022 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase.

Discussions around lobster farming on the eastern seaboard erupted into clashes and controversy in 2020. But what came out of that was a historic deal that represented a compromise and commercial success.

The Cape Breton-based Membertou First Nation led a purchase in 2021 of Clearwater Foods, one of North America’s largest seafood companies.

The transaction was led by Chief Terry Paul, who brought in other Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to close a deal deemed the largest single investment that an Indigenous group in Canada has ever made in the fishery.

“That was a historic deal that turned conflict into collaboration and it has led to mutual prosperity and coming together,” Campbell says. “There are a lot of threads to tie in terms of learning from the successes on the East Coast and perhaps seeing if those victories can be repeated on the West Coast.”

Beyond this panel discussion, IPSS 2023 will include dozens of speakers and cultural performers, with keynote speeches and panel discussions.

Speakers will address a mix of urban and rural topics including salmon farming, mining, environmental stewardship, youth leadership, urban development, export and trade, capitalizing Indigenous business, healthcare, Treaty 8, the digital economy and more.

Tickets for the 2023 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase, coming June 1-2, are available here.

This article was originally published in Business in Vancouver.

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