Aboriginal groups split in classic tug-of-war over jobs, environment

There are no shades of grey when it comes to salmon farming in B.C., and the report on sustainable aquaculture has ignited a classic jobs versus environment controversy.

First Nations communities, with traditional territory close to many of the salmon farms on Vancouver Island waters, are split.

Harold Sewid, Aboriginal Aquaculture Association director and hereditary clan chief of the Mamalilikulla-Que’Qwa’Sot’Em band, whose traditional territory is in the Broughton Archipelago, wants the open-net fish farms to expand.

Speaking at a news conference led by the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, Sewid said he wants to protect First Nations jobs.

“We want more jobs and more sites. I see this industry as one way to get our people out of poverty and back to working. We’ve lost most of the jobs with the decline of salmon fishing and logging,” he said.

But, on the front lawn of the legislature with a salmon barbecue in the background, Bob Chamberlin, Kwibandcksutaineuk-Ah-Kwaw-Ah-Mish chief, said the Mamalilikulla no longer live in the Broughton, unlike his people, who see the devastation wrought by fish farms on a daily basis and the effects of sea lice on pink-salmon runs.

“It is time this industry changed for the sake of British Columbians and for the sake of wild salmon,” Chamberlin said, urging government to implement the report, which recommends all salmon farms move to closed pens.

Chamberlin said there is almost universal agreement within the 200-member band about the dangers that fish farms pose to wild salmon.

“They need to embrace this report and bring the new relationship to the First Nations of the Broughton Archipelago,” he said.

Nowhere is the clash of ideas clearer than in Kitkatla, at the Skeena River estuary, where some band members have partnered with a salmon farming company.

Salmon farming would help bring the community out of poverty, said band member Matthew Hill, who blamed two recent suicides on lack of hope and an unemployment rate of 85 per cent.

“I hope people take the time to do their own research and get the truth that fish farming can be done on this coast safely,” he said.

But, on the legislature lawn, Kitkatla clan chief Conrad Lewis said 80 per cent of the band is against salmon farming as a handful pushes to bring in the fish farming company.

The First Nations Summit is throwing its support behind the report.

Chief Judith Sayers, a member of the summit’s political executive, said the committee “has taken into account the need for safeguarding the existing habitat of wild stocks and the potential threats posed by the operation of open-net fish pens.”

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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