Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.

Five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations celebrate legal victory in fishing dispute

Ha’oom Fisheries Society and T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries announce “major legal victory”

Five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are celebrating a legal victory for their fishing rights today.

The Ha’oom Fisheries Society and T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries issued a media release on April 19 announcing a “major legal victory” for the Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Ehattesaht/Chinehkint First Nations following a British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling.

“Today is a good day, a day when the Court of Appeal recognizes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been infringing on the Nuu-chah-nulth right to a commercial fishery. For years, we have tried to get DFO to implement our right without success,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Dr. Judith Sayers through the announcement. “As a result, our way of life has been negatively impacted and these five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have had to invest time, money and resources to take this issue to the courts not once, but twice, and to the higher court levels. This is unacceptable, and now we need to work to get our fishermen out on the water for this fishing without further delay.”

The British Columbia Court of Appeal says it expects Canada to remedy problems in commercial fishery regulations arising from a legal battle that was first launched in 2003.

A three-judge panel of the Appeal Court unanimously upheld parts of an April 2018 ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court that found Canada’s regulation and management of regular commercial fisheries unjustifiably infringed on the First Nations’ rights to harvest and sell fish.

In that judgment, Justice Mary Humphries gave Ottawa one year to offer the plaintiffs opportunities to exercise their rights to harvest and sell salmon, groundfish, crab and prawn in a manner that remedied those infringements.

The five First Nations, known collectively as the Nuu-chah-nulth, appealed the decision, which also found Canada did not fail in its duty to consult with them by refusing to implement their proposals to resolve the dispute and negotiate new policies outside the courts.

The Appeal Court found Humphries did not err in that part of her decision, but also found Humphries was not entitled to impose new limits on the nations’ commercial fishing rights, and that she erred by limiting certain rights to vessels of a particular size and fishing capacity.

“The tone of today’s decision has created a great sense of joy and elation for our Ha’wiih and our people. This decision paves the way forward for further negotiations and for more opportunities of reconciliation,” said lead negotiator for Ahousaht First Nation Wickanninish, Cliff Atleo. “Now, it is time for Canada to meet us at the negotiation table and turn these victories and steps towards reconciliation into tangible benefits for our fishers and communities.”

In a statement released on April 19, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council expressed gratitude for the support they have received from First Nations and organizations.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” said NTC Vice-President Mariah Charleson. “I am discouraged that Canada went to this length to deny their infringement of our inherent rights, but today we celebrate. Today’s decision lets the entire world know what we as Nuu-chah-nulth-aht have known for a very long time; that our rights have been, and continue to be, infringed upon by Canada.

“With this acknowledgement, we can begin to work together and move forward in a good way.”

— with a file from the Canadian Press

READ MORE: Nuu-chah-nulth Nations urge government to fulfill Supreme Court decision on fishing rights

READ MORE: B.C. First Nations get clarity on fishing rights from top court

READ MORE: DFO says the five aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

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