A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)

A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)

B.C. chiefs say Discovery Island fish farm process did not get reconciliation right

Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai chiefs say feds, province and industry all missed opportunities

Two Vancouver Island First Nations’ chiefs broke their silence this week, saying the federal Discovery Islands fish farm process was filled with missed opportunities.

Campbell River area Wei Wai Kum and We Wai Kai were among seven First Nations that federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan consulted prior to her decision to phase out 19 Discovery Islands fish farms by 2022.

But the chiefs said that even though the decision aligned with the sentiment of their communities in favour of removing open-pen farms from the ocean, the process was hollow.

Chief Chris Roberts of Wei Wai Kum First Nation said they were given inadequate time to have a “pragmatic dialogue” with Jordan and were dissatisfied with the way the process was conducted.

The First Nations were left with no alternatives, nor were they given the opportunity to arrive at an autonomous decision through the principles of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Instead they were left ‘wearing the decision’ the federal government made for them.

Roberts said he is not a proponent/supporter of the aquaculture industry and shares the serious concerns of his community about the impact of open-pen fish farming in its traditional territory.

“I’m not trying to give false hopes to the industry that we might have arrived at some sort of permission for them to stay, but it certainly could have been done in a way that was not so abrupt.”

But as an elected chief with a background in economics and privy to understanding the full picture of the economic consequences of decisions, Roberts said there are several missed opportunities for everyone involved.

And according to him, no one is off the hook for the consequences of this decision – the federal and provincial government and aquaculture industry included.

Former We Wai Kai chief Brian Assu said they were “railroaded” by the federal government’s decision, in a virtual Q & A meeting with MLA Michele Babchuk.

“We literally had 30 minutes between Wei Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum to consult with the minister and out of that, 15 minutes of it basically was telling us that she was going to announce her decision,” said Assu.

“When I say we got railroaded, I really truly mean that… That’s our traditional territory and the (federal) government decided to base their decision on all external parties to us – including other First Nations. It was a mess,” said Assu.

The actual site of the fish farms comes under core Laichwiltach territory (We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Kwaikah) and overlaps with four other First Nations (Tla’amin, Klahoose, Homalco, K’ómoks). But apart from these Nations, there were other commentators brought in to the discussion, said Roberts.

Lumping a broader regional group of First Nations into the process was unnecessary, as it interfered with the autonomy of the title-holding Nations in their jurisdiction, according to Roberts.

He is also disappointed with the process because all the rhetoric of reconciliation and commitment to UNDRIP were nothing more than “window dressings.” According to him, the government did not get reconciliation right as it was not a “genuine consultation process” and they weren’t afforded the opportunity to arrive at a decision on their own terms.

“If they’re going to recognize us as title holders in these areas, and it’s going to be our decision, then let’s establish the process that helps us arrive at a decision in a responsible way.”

Instead of a shared decision making process or a consent-based model, it was the same old consult – where the minister hears your concerns (and Roberts gives Jordan the due recognition for listening to the concerns from the First Nations’ perspective) but still has the ultimate decision making power, he said.

“So even though it appears that the minister got it right this time, the risk is that nothing will change,” said Roberts with regards to future consultations.

He feels that Jordan’s decision was more of a political move to meet Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2019 election mandate that promised to remove open-pens from B.C.’s waters by 2025.

When asked about the First Nations’ dissatisfaction with the consultation process, Jordan’s office told the Mirror that prior to the decision to phase out the first farms in the Discovery Islands, the minster met directly with First Nations in the Discovery Islands, and “every effort” was made to have meaningful consultation.

“Our relationship with these Indigenous communities is extremely important, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure they have a say in the economic activity that occurs on their territory,” said Jordan in the statement.

The federal decision has been met with criticism from the industry and political leaders who have repeatedly pointed out the economic repercussions and jobs lost through this process.

Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan criticized the federal government’s handling of the Discovery Islands consultation process.

But Roberts calls Horgan’s criticism “ironic” because they had approached the province to table a Broughton-like process before the federal government got involved.

But according to Roberts, the “door was shut without an explanation to us as to why.”

READ MORE: Horgan chastising feds for Discovery Islands fish farm decision ‘ironic’: First Nation chief

As far as economic repercussions are concerned, the decision hit Wei Wai Kum’s businesses too.

The status quo the aquaculture industry was operating on was not okay, and for First Nations saving wild salmon and environmental sustainability will always be foremost priority. But probably there were missed opportunities for the industry too, said Roberts.

“I really wish there would be more appetite to explore things like land-based aquaculture, he said and added, “or even closed containment.”

He is tired of hearing the industry say that land based aquaculture is not a feasible option for them.

“I’d like to see them step up and prove it or disprove it. Until then I don’t buy it,” he said.

READ ALSO: Discovery Islands salmon farms on their way out

READ ALSO: Canada ‘stole Christmas’ says Vancouver Island’s aquaculture industry

READ ALSO: Chief says push for fish farm judicial review a challenge to reconciliation, Aboriginal Rights

First NationsFish Farms

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Castlegar’s Gabrielle Herle (right) will be one of the speakers at the conference. She is seen here with Wendy Gaskill from Chinook Scaffolding accepting their Contractor of the Year Award in 2019 from the Builders Code Champion Awards. Photo: Submitted
Girls in STEAM and Leadership Conference offered free for all girls in the Kootenay Boundary

Virtual conference for girls in grades 8 to 12 will be taking place on March 8

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Students participating in an outdoor education experience in the Golden area during COVID-19. (Meg Langley photo)
Outdoor education project takes Golden’s students into nature

The program offers a way for students to learn in nature and safe from COVID

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

The Penticton Speedway has been sold but the investment group who bought it is planning to create an enhanced racetrack and racing experience. (File photo)
Penticton Speedway sold and will remain a racetrack

Investment group that includes founder of Area 27 intends to buy the Speedway

The District of Sicamous announced plans to purchase and manage the Sicamous Medical Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Colleen Anderson and Malcolm Makayev have been overseeing this and other health matters on behalf of the district’s council. (Jim Elliot-Eagle Valley News)
Sicamous to purchase retiring doctor’s business, take over management

Move intended to attract new doctors by allowing them to focus on patient care

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

(File photo)
‘Give me your stuff! Oh, hello, officer’: Man surprised by Kamloops Mountie

A man trying to enter a vehicle stopped in Kamloops was greeted by an off-duty Kamloops Mountie inside

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Winlaw artist Lou Lynn is one of eight Canadians to win a Governor General's award this year. Photo: Janet Dwyer
Kootenay artist Lou Lynn wins Governor General’s award

Lynn is among eight artists honoured throughout Canada

Project rendering of Hadgraft Wilson Place (CNW Group/Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)
68-unit affordable housing complex coming downtown Kelowna

The six-storey complex located on Fuller Ave is set to be completed by fall 2022

A man was arrested after he refused to vacate Alexander’s Beach Pub in Coldstream while not adhering to the business’s COVID-19 mask-wearing policy Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Google Maps photo)
Man arrested for refusing to leave Coldstream store without wearing mask

Store owner says man likely came in looking for an argument: ‘the fellow had a notepad’

Most Read