Minister accused of ignoring First Nations voices

“This minister does not seem to grasp what real reconciliation means when it comes to aquaculture and salmon farming,” says Wei Wai Kum First Nation Chief.

David Kiemele, managing director of Cermaq Canada, Isaiah Robinson, elected councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation, Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation and Dallas Smith of Na̲nwak̲olas First Nation’s Council at IPSS 2023. This article was first published by SeaWest News.

There can be no true reconciliation with First Nations if Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray keeps pushing her agenda to oust salmon farmers from the traditional territories of aquaculture-dependent Indigenous communities in British Columbia.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase (IPSS) conference in Vancouver, several Indigenous community leaders simply said “no” when asked if Murray’s plan to transition open-net salmon farms in BC reflected the Federal Government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.

“No…we could not even meet with her when we were in Ottawa recently while several other ministers met with us and heard us,” said Isaiah Robinson, an elected councillor of the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation and general manager of its economic development corporation.

“She is biased and untrustworthy…She is ignoring the science of her own department. She is ignoring our voices, and has demonstrated she can’t be trusted,” said Robinson.

The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais began farming and processing salmon in the late 1980’s, forming a partnership for the business with Mowi in 1998 – the first agreement developed by a salmon farming company and a First Nation in British Columbia.

They are among 17 BC First Nations which have agreements for farming salmon in their territories resulting in 78% of all salmon farmed in the province falling under a beneficial partnership with a First Nation.

Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation accused Murray of denying First Nations the ability to determine for themselves whether they want salmon farming in their traditional territories.

“No…this minister does not seem to grasp what real reconciliation means when it comes to aquaculture and salmon farming” Roberts told SeaWestNews.

The Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai had submitted a proposal in November 2022 to trial finfish operations, beginning with one farm operating for one cycle in their core territory under heavy oversight by their members.

This was to facilitate Indigenous-led detailed research and analysis of the impact of finfish farms in their traditional waters and whether salmon farming was a fit for their communities.

“Our proposal was entirely ignored…It’s a clear lack of recognition of our right to self-determination,” said Roberts.

Dallas Smith of Na̲nwak̲olas First Nation’s Council, who speaks on behalf of the BC-based Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFSS) accused Murray of “cherry picking” the issues she will deal with when it comes to reconciliation.

“It’s very challenging to work with a level of government when they throw around terms like ‘reconciliation’ but cherry-pick what issues they’re going to reconcile about.

“But we’re going to continue to build partnerships that benefit not only our communities, but all British Columbians and all Canadians,” he said.

The three First Nations leaders were part of a panel along with David Kiemele, managing director of Cermaq Canada at the IPSS conference, which urged the Federal government not to make any decisions on open-net salmon farming in British Columbia without having an extensive understanding of the potential devastation to rural and remote communities in the province.

While the opportunity to sustainably produce more salmon in Canada is unparalleled in the world the Liberal government has been unduly influenced by aquaculture detractors and activists rather than relying on science and traditional indigenous knowledge to grow the industry, the panel heard.

There are now several legal challenges mounted by First Nations, aquaculture service and supply companies, and salmon farmers, over two ministerial decisions to shut down fish farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Minister Murray, who is ideologically opposed to open-net aquaculture is working on a transition plan for salmon farming in BC, that will impact more than 4,700 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity annually.

She was expected to present the transition options, including the closure of more salmon farms to the Federal Cabinet this month, but has now delayed that decision till later this year.

Murray’s office in an emailed statement, said Canada can be a global leader in sustainable aquaculture, while also making sure we protect keystone species like wild pacific salmon.

“Work continues in the development of the Transition Plan, incorporating feedback received through consultations. To respond to requests from First Nations and others, we have extended consultation on the open-net pen aquaculture transition to all interested parties through the summer. The Transition Plan will be shared in due course.”

By Fabian Dawson and Samantha McLeod. This article was first published by SeaWest News. Learn more about the Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase, supported by Resource Works, returning in 2024 here.

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