Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Councillor Darryl Coon speaks out against DFO during the live-streamed public event back on March 25. (North Island Gazette file photo)

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Councillor Darryl Coon speaks out against DFO during the live-streamed public event back on March 25. (North Island Gazette file photo)

Licensing decision disappoints but does not deter North Island First Nation

Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation intends to enact its own standard of pursuing sustainable aquaculture

A North Island First Nation says last week’s federal decision to renew salmon aquaculture licenses in its territory for two-year terms fails to consider the nation’s rights, its economic stability, and the government’s own reconciliation agenda.

“Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation is firm: we have authority to make decisions across our own traditional territory, as do other Nations,” says Chief Terry Walkus in the release. “Ottawa’s decision tells us it is more concerned about virtue-signalling than actually seeking reconciliation with Indigenous nations.”

GNN announced in a live-streamed public event on March 25 that it would be taking over fisheries and aquaculture licensing. Both hereditary and elected leaders of the nation stood and acknowledged the traditional lands of the Kwakiutl First Nation and recognized the shared lands and responsibilities with their neighbouring Kwakwaka’wakw relations.

The leaders spoke about shared commitments to restore wild salmon populations in their local watersheds and the need for Indigenous authority to govern aquaculture permitting in their territories.

While the nation is prepared to issue permits in the absence of any license term renewal, the news release indicates dismay with the decision for a two-year license renewal because it is too short a time frame to justify the significant investment in innovation technology that federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray has indicated is necessary to address her concerns.

“If the Canadian government cannot enable a policy climate for new research and technology in the industry, then companies have no incentive to stay and invest in B.C.’s infrastructure, and many First Nations stand to lose not just revenue and business, but a viable livelihood that supports connection to our lands and waters,” said Walkus.

The term ‘transition’ refers to technological change, but GNN also believes transition should refer to social innovation and recognition for a new governance as well.

“Nations are ready to lead the industry into the future, and we would like to see the Canadian government recognize our co-jurisdictional authority and support our visions of what aquaculture could be.”

GNN added they are invoking their rights and traditional protocols as they aim to create a new standard for aquaculture industry operations that exceeds the current federal regulation, pointing out they have been monitoring farms with greater presence and oversight than the government has had in place for the last 30 years.

“We are on a path to justice through exercising our rights and responsibilities over our lands and waters, and assuming responsibility for the health and well-being of our people,” says Walkus. “We continue to wait for DFO to come to Port Hardy and consult directly on a nation to nation basis. In the meantime, the costs of these lost opportunities are adding-up, and the nation will ensure that these problems and costs are well known to decision-makers in Ottawa.”

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