This year, we have witnessed the dignity of the Mi’kmaw Nation in their struggle against Canada’s system which has deprived their people of access to fisheries in their own waters.
This story repeats itself not only on the oceans but across the lands. In the Pacific the Nuu–Chah–Nulth, Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, and Tsimshian have all had to fight for their rights. Many court cases have been fought and won over the past forty years. The Haida Nation, through the effort of many individuals, has established not only rights to fish which Canada wanted to deny, but also to use marine resources for commerce.
The Government of Canada and especially the Department of Fisheries (DFO) has shown no regard for rights or law and has done nothing to implement the wins. Rather than working to fit Indigenous Nations into the economy, they stonewalled and forbade fish plants from buying from other than licensed fishers.
Many hurdles have been thrown in our way over the years while the only reprieve put forward over the past 50 years has been the Comprehensive Claims Process and the BC Treaty Process, both of which would lead to the surrender of Title for a treaty. The Haida Nation opted to file a Claim of Title, which has been the leverage a source of strength in negotiations. While any of the treaty processes may have seen a treaty for only five to 15% of our lands and a bit of cash.
With Title before the courts, we launched the Weyerhaeuser Case that became one of the most important leaps in the struggle for Title all across the land and waters. In this case, the court ruled that the Honour of the Court was at stake, and even where Title had not been proven in court, the Crown must behave as if there is Title. Further, the Crown must not only consult, but also accommodate. This became the most often cited case in Aboriginal law.
In 2008, the Haida Nation put forward the notion to the Federal and Provincial Crowns of developing a relationship through reconciliation that would not require extinguishment, but co-existence. While the federal negotiators could not get a mandate, an agreement was made with BC that saw the protected lands increased to include more than half of Haida Gwaii. The sitting government had put reconciliation forward as practically its highest priority. About one year ago the federal government put forward a policy of reconciliation and recognition that is much as we proposed 12 years ago.
The Fisheries Resource Reconciliation Agreement is not a treaty, but rather an incremental gain that advances our opportunities in commercial fishing while having more people on the water without giving up any of our rights to fish as an immediate measure before a final settlement or court ruling. The FRRA provides more immediate opportunity for Haida citizens who choose to be a part of the existing commercial fishing economy without placing additional pressure on fish stocks, uplifting Haida commercial fishing fleets by providing greater access, training and capital support opportunities.
The Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement (FRRA)
Along with seven Coastal Nations, the CHN supported by the Hereditary Chiefs Council, Skidegate Band Council and Old Massett Village Council ratified the FRRA in September 2020. This agreement will help to restore Haida commercial fishing fleets. It will mean more boats on the water, more food fish in our villages and aims to build a better quality of life for Haida citizens. The agreement does not affect Haida inherent rights to fish or rights to fish for food, social, or ceremonial purposes. Another key component of the agreement is a commitment to collaborative governance and management between the Nations and the DFO that recognizes traditional knowledge and commits to measures to support conservation, rebuilding and habitat restoration goals.
The agreement will also see a Coastal Nations Fisheries Trust established. The Trust will support the nations’ participation in community-based fisheries and coastwide commercial fishing opportunities. CHN plans to soon appoint a trustee to the Trust Board and three directors to the Coastal Nations Fisheries board, as well as hire staff to support implementation. Planning and management of the community-based fishery will be in collaboration with Old Massett Village Council and Skidegate Band Council. Working together to build and maintain a strong organizational structure to manage the community-based fishery will be key in restoring the Haida fishing fleets, while also supporting the well–being of the Nation without compromise to our rights or Title.
Signatories to the FRRA include: Gitxaala Nation, Metlakatla First Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Nuxalk Nation, Wuikinuxv Nation, Council of the Haida Nation, Great Bear Initiative Society, and Canada.
The full agreement and summary document are available under Documents & Agreements at <haidanation.ca>
This article is published in the recent Winter Haida Laas. View or download the full edition here.