A recent letter to the editor by Heather Olney rightly suggested that protests against fish farms may not have unanimous support from all First Nations in the immediate region.
In fact, many of the protestors, a majority I’d say, are from the southern First Nations near Campbell River.
We simply cannot lump all First Nations together as part of a group of nations occupying, or at least supporting the protests of, the fish farms.
To be fair, a lot of the fish farms run by Marine Harvest are in fact in the Broughton Archipelago, geographically close to the Lawit’sis, Mamalilikala and Musgamagw Dzawda’enuxw First Nations.
Here near our three communities of Port Hardy, Port Alice and Port McNeill there are the ‘Namgis (Alert Bay area) protesting as well.
While these nations protests against fish farms in their own traditional territories, there is also the question of those First Nations that are choosing to stay quiet on the issue.
For instance, we’ve had little information from other nations such as We Wai Kai (Quadra Island) and Wei Wai Kum (Campbell River) and even here in our own region Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw, Quatsino and Fort Rupert haven’t yet spoken publicly about it, at least from their chiefs and councils.
This is just to say that we can’t simply assume all First Nations are against it.
In fact, a good majority of Indigenous peoples are employed by Marine Harvest and all the businesses associated with it (from transporting the farmed fish to processing it, and all the other jobs that go along with it in the process).
Roughly 25 per cent of Marine Harvest’s employment is of Indigenous descent, but take a look at the numbers for total employment in my last article on fish farms.
It’s certainly nothing to ignore, that’s for sure.
We have to remember each nation has its own government, a chief and council along with the band administration, and each has its own way of governing and making policy decisions.
Some choose to starkly oppose fish farms while others see it as an economic opportunity. For those that choose to make business partnerships with the fish farm industry, from what I’ve seen, it’s been in an effort to provide smart, sensible policies and agreements to both provide jobs and to protect our environment.
In fact, all nations are dedicated to be stewards of their traditional lands. It’s ingrained in each of our nation’s cultural ways and practices.
However, I’d argue though that when it comes to poverty, homelessness and all the social issues attached to Indigenous communities, these nations that choose to support fish farms have the wellness of their people at the front of their minds.
So the question is, who or what matters more — quite literally forcing their own people to be homeless or without jobs because other nations choose to protect wild salmon from the malpractice of fish farms or to offer an opportunity to take care of their families and put a roof over their heads? Because when it comes down to it, it’s quite honestly a decision between the two.
Going forward let’s remember that while it’s everyone’s duty to protect our waters, it’s also our duty to offer alternatives and solutions to the problems.
If these protests come of anything, it would mean a loss of jobs for our Indigenous peoples, so we need to prepare other economic opportunities if we are to follow through with the occupations.
Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.