Local First Nations chiefs support Stz’uminus ban

Aboriginal leaders from around Vancouver Island and beyond are declaring support for the Stz’uminus First Nation as it battles with the federal government over fisheries management.

The Stz’uminus recently announced it was restricting access to water in its territory, stretching from Cedar to Chemainus, following years of consultation issues with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. After a private meeting with five other chiefs from the Island on Monday, Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott addressed reporters.

"[The other chiefs] made it pretty clear that they support our direction," Elliott said.

"They’re willing to work together and we’re going to work together to figure out how. We want this to end in the near future to the benefit of First Nations people."

The closed meeting was between Elliott, David Bob of Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose), Chip Seymour of Cowichan, Wilbur Jack of Penelakut, John Wesley of Snuneymuxw and James Thomas of Halalt.

Elliott said he has also received declarations of support from First Nations around the Lower Mainland and in the north.

"The DFO is creating a battle in our territories and other territories by hoping that whatever’s happening is going to go away," he said. "But the DFO’s lack of consultation is going to push First Nations to a position where we’re all going to come together, and we’re all going to do what we need to do to be true managers of our resources."

Meanwhile, the Underwater Harvesters Association has issued an open letter expressing concern over the closure of the Kulleet Bay geoduck fishery.

"They have been very clear that their argument is with the DFO, not the fishermen. However…by threatening to blockade the fishery, the Stz’uminus, who already have fished and sold their full quota of geoduck for this year, are risking the ability of their fellow UHA members to complete their quota for the year," the letter reads, in part.

Elliott said the nation is trying to protect its livelihood as are commercial fishermen.