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

The District of Ucluelet is fast-tracking temporary use permits for RVs/campervans as seasonal housing. (Westerly file photo)
Ucluelet reviews 11 applications for RVs as seasonal housing

“Housing is so essential to everyone, and an issue that cases a lot of stress to business owners.”

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht public works dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Hotel Zed Tofino. (Westerly file photo)
Two Tofino businesses up for building awards

14th annual Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read