Kyuquot community members participate in cleaning fish. (Photo contributed)

Parcels from home: How fish delivery links Island First Nation with its dispersed members

Despite the pandemic, Kyuquot First Nation will continue its annual food fish distribution program

Every year, between May to August, Kyuquot First Nation members spread across B.C., and the US receive a doorstep delivery of fish from their traditional land on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Kyuquot will go ahead with this annual tradition of food fish distribution despite shutting its borders and not allowing anyone to travel in or out due to COVID-19.

Salmon, halibut, yellow snappers and other fish caught off Barkley Sound and Kyuquot Sound are distributed and free of cost to more than 350 members living in Kyuquot and elsewhere. Depending upon the catch, each family member gets anywhere between two to 10 fish, irrespective of age.

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“There’s an entire process in place for this food fish distribution which stemmed as one of the benefits of the Maa-Nulth treaty,” said Dianna Dragon, a community outreach manager for Kyuquot whose family has been overseeing the logistics of the fish distribution program since it started in 2011 after the treaty came into effect.

Her brother Frank Dragon, a fisheries consultant to Kyuquot/Checleseht First Nations (KCFN), conceptualized the program and put together the distribution logistics in place. And now Dianna and her daughter, Monique Dragon Gillette, a fisheries manager for KCFN, oversee its operations.

Traditionally a fishing community, Kyuquot undertakes this yearly distribution of food fish as a “selfless service” to all the members outside settlement territories, who do not have access nor the opportunity to obtain this fish unless it is given to them, said Frank.

“It’s everybody’s food fish. Members who live in Kyuquot are lucky and they can still go out and fish but for others, it’s expensive to go buy fish from the stores,” said Dianna.

Delivery is routed based on the database of members and also includes children who are placed in foster care outside traditional territories.

In Kyuquot, when fish is brought in from the sea there’s a cultural gathering that takes place as members come together and participate in cleaning the fish.

“Throughout the summer months there is music, song and drumbeats in Kyuquot as people come to gut and package the fish,” said Frank. Most of the catch is then smoked in smokehouses or stored in freezers to preserve it.

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Systematically, the first catch is distributed among members living in Kyuquot, then it is packaged and distributed to members throughout Vancouver Island.

A truck is rented and two people from Kyuquot go door-to-door to deliver the fish in places such as Campbell River, Gold River, Port Alberni, Ladysmith and Victoria among others, said Frank. And the final leg of the delivery is to Vancouver and Seattle.

The tradition is also a good way to connect with community members who are living away from home territory, Dianna said. For members, it’s like receiving a letter from home, “they’re always excited to receive the fish from home waters.”

This year the First Nation will have to work around logistic challenges imposed by COVID-19 and might have to make some exceptions, Frank said. Due to border closure, some members from Seattle might not receive the food fish this year. But otherwise, the fish distribution will continue as it has for the past nine years.

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Fresh catch is brought to the Kyuquot dock. (Photo contributed)

Cleaned fish is loaded into the truck for distribution. (Photo contributed)

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