[Witness speaks in Kwakwala]
I want to also acknowledge that I'm on Algonquin territory, the unceded territories, and I do not take this acknowledgement lightly. It is something that's very serious and dear to us as first nations people.
My traditional name is Owadi. I'm the elected chief councillor from the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation. Many of you may know our territories as the Broughton Archipelago, or ground zero of the fish farm fight in British Columbia. I've served as the elected chief councillor for 12 years, six consecutive terms. I am finishing my second three-year term as the vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. I am also the chair of the first nation wild salmon alliance, and I have a deep background in fisheries, especially as it relates to aquaculture, fish farms, and the Cohen commission. I'm really happy that I made some very brief summary notes of the presentation that I was planning on making, so I'll just go through this and touch on some of the other aspects.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has been in existence since 1969. We take a very strong view, perspective, and stance on aboriginal title and rights. We seek every opportunity to advance the recognition of the inherent right and authority that first nations have in Canada. We advocate at every level possible. That's why you find me sitting here at this table with all of you this afternoon.
In terms of the topic at hand, I want you to understand the background of my people. Wherever I travel, I'm always very proud to say that we are clam diggers and fish eaters, and very proud of both. When you consider that statement, clams are found below the ocean floor and the salmon are found in the watersheds of our territories, so we have environmental concerns that extend below the surface of the ocean to the very tops of the trees at the height of land in our traditional territories and everything in between. When the government takes steps to make changes that are going to affect various industries and activities found within our territories, we are going to demand that we have a great say in what is going to occur.
Of course, now, with the new Liberal government, first nations across Canada, including myself, have taken great hope in the statements of this new government wanting to redevelop a relationship with first nations people, and most importantly, to revisit any legislation, regulation, management practice, or policy that was not properly and adequately consulted with first nations to satisfy the honour of the crown. As first nations people, we live in a world of the Constitution and Supreme Court of Canada rulings, and we are forever pushing the government and reminding them as gently or as strongly as necessary of their very own laws that they choose to abrogate, disregard, or take on with the most minimal of views.
Certainly, this is very much true and what we're here to talk about today with those omnibus bills that changed no less than 70 different pieces of legislation and law within one bill. Certainly, I've read in the newspaper many times over about this being construed as a miscarriage of democracy within the Canadian government. I certainly heard that loud and clear from the opposition parties.
Here we are today looking to what Prime Minister Trudeau included in the DFO minister's letter, where he spoke very much about reinstating all of the things that were less than gloriously ripped out of the oceans act, such as the HADD permitting, making sure that there is habitat ready provide for the sustenance and abundance of wild fisheries across Canada. The omission at the minister's whim to remove tracts of water from this very protection is just unfathomable, when you think of it, from a country such as Canada that has enjoyed a great foundation built upon marine resources. The traditions of our people in British Columbia, coast-wide and well up into the very headwaters of the Fraser, the Skeena, and the Nass rivers, have provided fish for our people's sustenance.
As all of you are probably more aware than most Canadians, I've been privy to various reports on the state of first nations economy and the poverty that many of our communities live in. When this is true, and I know that it is true, then we rely our upon our traditional foods for the very survival of our people through the cold winters. It is not that we happen to enjoy barbequing a salmon or having clams in the winter; it is what we require to make it through life on a daily basis. This is heightened as you go into the most remote communities and as you learn the challenges that they face in terms of economy and of accessing foods to live.
I think about what's happened here with Bill C-38. It went through the phased approach, where it gets royal assent in the first go-round and then we leave the second phase up to the Governor General. Theoretically, the second phase would open up a door for some measure of consultation with first nations, but the problem is that the whole ball of wax has already gotten royal assent, so it's a meaningless consultation. This is not what I see as the crown's duty to uphold its honour.
When I think of this Canadian government now unequivocally embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there are very significant portions of that which relate to the topic at hand today with regard to the environment, our traditions, our cultures, our values, and our traditional food sources. Canada, on one hand, is now embracing the UN declaration, and we are faced with the changes that came through the omnibus bill. All of the safeguards that were taken out of this act need to be reinstated, at minimum, right now. We need to turn our attention to the developing leading-edge science, which is becoming available through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other sources, to further inform and guide the management practices of the DFO.
In British Columbia, my focus has always been on wild salmon, and I've learned that the outward migrating salmon are probably the least understood. That component of this sacred resource is not understood. How can we adequately develop management plans when this one very significant piece has no science to validate management decisions?
Of course, when I start to think about the changes in the definitions of aboriginal fisheries and commercial fisheries, it's really offensive to me that the Supreme Court of Canada has defined aboriginal rights and access to fish, yet this bill—taking in all the many components—attempts to limit that to a fishery, rather than a right to fish. The problem that I see with that is.... I think of my dear friend Grand Chief Ed John of the Carrier Sekani people and the early Stuart sockeye run of the Fraser River. They have not touched that run in decades. The reason is that it is so depleted, they can't fathom taking fish out of there for worry about the annihilation of the run. That portion of the Fraser River, conceivably, could be forgotten under this existing Bill C-38.
We have to really take a look at what is an aboriginal fish. We have to reinstate the HADD permitting. When I think about the portions that talk about the agreements with the province to take on pieces of this work in conjunction with DFO, I am appalled that there is no mention of the same arrangement with first nations people.
When it talks about the province being well suited to engage on the management of fisheries, there is nobody in this country who is better suited to participate in the active management of fisheries—certainly in British Columbia and, I would say, across Canada—than first nations people. We are born into this. It is part of our genetic makeup. We understand our lands. We know what's going wrong. What we have is a government that has turned a deaf ear to the things that we express and to what we see as a meaningful path forward to safeguard the resources that we rely upon. The government must pursue a co-management agreement with first nations.
In my experience as elected chief of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis, I've learned about the HADD permitting in relationship to fish farms. What I found was appalling. There's this one company—I won't name the name—that was able to develop a marine bank, an area where they restored so many hundred thousand cubic metres of underwater environment. That was their bank, so they could destroy that same amount in our first nations territory. It made no sense. It would be like tearing down the arena here in Kenora and rebuilding a new one in Toronto as some sort of way to compensate. It does not make sense.
When I say that I want to see the reinstatement of the HADD permits, I want to know—and I want to advance to each of you—that when mitigation measures are going to be developed and there is going to be a permit, then they will be developed with the first nations who hold the title for the lands where the destruction is going to occur. Anything less is not going to be very successful to first nations.
We must really understand that this bill contemplates looking after fisheries rather than fish. If we're not going to take our greatest minds and learned execution of understanding into the protection of habitat, we are not going to have fish. If we don't have healthy and abundant ecosystems that will lay the groundwork for the fish to be able to produce and survive, then we will have nothing.
I want to impress upon you the catastrophe that I know has happened with the cod stocks in Newfoundland and on the east coast of Canada. We must embrace the principles of the Cohen commission in British Columbia. We must understand that there are a lot of holes in the science that guides management of fisheries in British Columbia, and we must expand on things such as the genome work that Dr. Kristi Miller is doing with DFO.
We must expand on the closed containment initiative of Kuterra, of the 'Namgis First Nation on the north end of Vancouver Island, and we must take the fish farms out of the ocean and put them on the land. If you think about it, we will then be able to provide a greater opportunity for economic development to a broader range of first nations that don't necessarily have to be coastal. It will meet many of the goals that the government has stated to close the socio-economic gap that first nations are faced with.
As we go down the road, it must be done hand in glove with first nations people. We must take a look at all the various sections from section 35, 37, and 38, and understand that we must revisit these with first nations, and I say re-engage, not consult and accommodate. We must re-engage with first nations, consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, so we will accomplish what the Supreme Court of Canada has given direction to Canada to do, to uphold the crown's honour and to move toward true reconciliation of presumed crown title, with the underlying aboriginal title of first nations people in Canada.
I want to ensure that we move forward collectively with first nations and that we reinstate HADD, at a minimum, and build on that with current and emerging science, such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation and their Salish Sea marine survival project. These are wonderful examples of new tools that are consistent with the Liberal government's commitment to do so.
Thank you, Scott.