Frustrated with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ "mismanagement" and failure to recognize mandated aboriginal fishing rights, the Stz’uminus First Nation has vowed to ban boat traffic from a wide swath of water off the east coast of Vancouver Island.
"Until further notice, we will prohibit access to our waters by all vessels including but not limited to commercial fishing vessels, DFO vessels and any nonnative civilians and government officials," Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott said in a statement released last Friday.
Attached to the statement was a map of the blockade zone – the Stz’uminus core territory. The area stretches from Sansum Narrows north of Maple Bay to Dodds Narrows north of Nanaimo, and includes all waters around Galiano, Valdes, Thetis and Penelakut islands.
As of Tuesday morning, no action had yet been taken to prohibit access to the waters.
"At this time, the Stz’uminus First Nation has not blocked any fishery from DFO or commercial fishers," the DFO said in a statement.
"Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages fisheries resources to allow for sustainable fishing opportunities. Officials are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Stz’uminus to understand their concerns and interest. When needed, DFO and the RCMP work with fishermen and members of the First Nations to ensure the safety of everyone on the water. We stand strongly against violence on the water."
"The Stz’uminus people have continually occupied our territory along the Salish Sea for countless generations – thousands of years before European arrival," Elliott said in his statement. "The ongoing actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have failed to follow federal aboriginal consultation and accommodation laws, failed to appropriately manage or allow for co-management of fisheries within our territory and ultimately, have failed to recognize aboriginal rights and title. Stz’uminus First Nation and our neighbouring Nations have been left no recourse and we are hereby re-claiming our Core Territory in the Salish Sea."
The fact that the Stz’uminus and other First Nations never ceded their territory is legally recognized by the Crown, Elliott said. Aboriginal rights, including the right to hunt and fish, are protected by the constitution, but are being infringed upon by the DFO.
"The DFO must make swift and sweeping changes to their procedures and policies to appropriately accommodate aboriginal rights and title," Elliott said.
Elliott also issued a letter to other fisheries stakeholders, explaining the Stz’uminus position.
"We understand that this will create challenges for all parties and we would like to firmly state that our fight is not with the commercial harvesters," he said. "Our fight is with the DFO alone and our hope is to compel them to follow Canadian law when enacting new policy and change their existing policies surrounding aboriginal access accordingly.
"Of primary concern is the safety of all parties. We understand the impact this will have on commercial harvesters and we regret that there are other groups besides our own that will be affected. We will do our best to keep you informed of our intentions and progress, throughout."