British Columbia

'Stand with us:' B.C. First Nations meet cabinet ministers in bid to move fish farms out

A group of six First Nations are hopeful meetings with provincial representatives will result in the end of fish farming the Broughton Archipelago east of Vancouver Island.

Talks between 6 First Nations and province come after 2-month occupation in Broughton Archipelago

Ernest Alfred, a traditional leader from the 'Namgis, Tlowitsis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, said in Vancouver Tuesday that he hopes the B.C. government will help end fish farming in his peoples' territories. (CBC)

A group of six  First Nations met with the provincial government Tuesday, hopeful for an end to open-pen fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago located between northern Vancouver Island and the  B.C. mainland.

"It's time because the NDP and the federal government have said that they want to reconcile with First Nations people across the country," said Ernest Alfred, a traditional leader from the 'Namgis, Tlowitsis and Mamalilikulla First Nations.

"I want to say there will be not reconciliation in our territory as long as the fish farms are in our waters."

Provincial cabinet ministers overseeing agriculture, environment, natural resources and Indigenous relations met with the First Nations chiefs at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver as supporters, including Alfred, rallied outside.

Alfred and others say they are concerned fish farms are damaging the health of wild salmon in the area. They also say the aquaculture operations do not have permission to operate in their traditional territory.

Meeting 'first step'

A joint statement was issued Tuesday evening on behalf of the province and the First Nations in attendance.

It made strong commitments to protecting the archipelago, wild salmon and Indigenous rights and to further talks but did not outline any specific actions to be taken.

"We have agreed to immediately embark on government-to-government discussions to address the issues and concerns about fish farms in the nations' traditional territories, based on free, prior and informed consent," the statement read.

"Today's meeting was the next step toward finding solutions together, which will include shared priorities and decision-making."

The statement also expressed the participants' commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Protests, court orders

For the past five months, First Nations in Kwakwaka'wakw territories of the Mama̱liliḵa̱la, ʼNa̱mǥis, and the four tribes of the Musgamagw Dzawada̱ʼenux̱w in the Broughton Archipelago have been actively demanding Marine Harvest Canada cease operations in its territories.

The company received a court order in November allowing the removal of protesters at one of several fish farms in the area. They had been there for two months.

Marine Harvest says the application for an injunction came after repeated efforts to seek dialogue with local First Nation leaders.

Protesters at a rally calling for an end to open-pen fish farming east of Vancouver Island hold placards at Canada Place in Vancouver on Jan. 30, 2018. (CBC)

The company also says it has formal agreements in place with 15 of the 24 nations in the territories where it has aquaculture operations.

It also encouraged the government to review Indigenous rights and title over the matter to provide clarity to both groups.

Alfred along with others at the rally said it was to help, "underscore the resolve and support to assert Indigenous decision making control over their lands, waters and resources."

With files from Megan Thomas.