B.C. court overturns limits on Indigenous commercial fishery

Chiefs say court ruling a ‘really important decision.’

Wickanninish (Clifford Atleo) is the lead negotiator for Ahousaht First Nation. Photo: Submitted


A B.C. appeal court overturned a limit on commercial fishing imposed on Indigenous fishers by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in a ruling released Monday.

“You can’t help but feel a little bit of emotion,” said Cliff Atleo, a spokesperson for the Ahousaht Nation – one of five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island that launched the legal challenge.

“We are looking forward to our people being able to look after themselves.”

It’s a decision many believe will be felt across the country and on the East Coast where First Nations continue to battle DFO for sovereignty over fishing.

Atleo, whose hereditary name is Wickanninish, said the nations – Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinehkint, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tla-o-qui-aht – now call on DFO to enact their right to sell fish and seafood harvested within their traditional territories.

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‘Big step forward’ say Five Nations

The B.C. Court of Appeal recognized not only the Indigenous right to fish with no limits no matter the species, but that First Nations have a priority to do so.

Terry Teegee, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called it “a really important decision.”

He said because the judges were unanimous in their ruling it would be difficult for the federal government to appeal.

NDP-MP Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni) noted the federal government spent $19 million fighting the Nuu-chah-nulth over 15 years.

“The appeal court removed inappropriate restrictions on the nations’ right to fish that the lower court had imposed,” he told a virtual group news conference via ZOOM.

“It’s well past the time for Canada to negotiate in good faith with the five nations and create viable economic fisheries for the five nations’ members that will contribute to our local and Canadian economy.”

 

 

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.