A group of some 50 Heiltsuk band members, including Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, has placed DFO’s central coast office near Bella Bella on lockdown since 5:30 Sunday evening in defiance of a planned herring gillnet fishery in their territory.
Occupying the inside of the building and setting up tents outside on the lawn, the delegation of elected leaders, hereditary chiefs, women, and children is refusing to leave the grounds or to let anyone into the office until the Nation’s demands are met.
The occupation began following failed talks with DFO’s Regional Director General Sue Farlinger Sunday afternoon.
“We will be here until DFO announces that Area 7 is closed to a gillnet fishery,” stated Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett from inside the DFO office on Sunday night.
“It is a shame that it has come to this, but we take our responsibility as stewards of these lands and waters seriously.”
“DFO has failed to honour our no-go zones. They say they hear our concerns, but their actions say otherwise,” said Kelly Brown, Director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.
“Despite the fact that only half of the 32,000 tons of herring that DFO predicted would be here this year have been detected, they remain intent on opening this fishery despite our stated concerns and opposition.”
“As proper stewards, we must be prepared to protect this resource at all costs,” said Heiltsuk Tribal Councillor Reg Moody.
“If we cannot achieve this through discussion, we will take the battle to the waters.”
The Heiltsuk Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) failed to reach an agreement concerning the controversial herring gillnet fishery during talks last Wednesday afternoon.
“Industry took 680 tons out of Area 7 with a recent seine fishery, over our strong objections,” said Kelly Brown, director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. “A gillnet fishery would only add insult to injury for threatened Central Coast stocks.”
Heiltsuk representatives have made it clear to DFO that they would accept a gillnet fishery in nearby Area 8 “a less critical area for traditional harvest”, but Area 7 is a no-go zone. DFO refuses to take Area 7 off the table.
“We have exhausted all means of negotiation with DFO,” stated Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “Our herring is our future, and we must protect it by any means necessary.”
The Heiltsuk received strong statements of support last week from the neighbouring Kitasoo/Xaixais Nation, the Council of the Haida Nation, Coastal First Nations, and The Union of BC Indian Chiefs. In a resolution passed Wednesday, Coastal First Nations “condemns DFO for their blatant support for industry and disregard for Heiltsuk rights and title.”
“We will support the Heiltsuk in any way we can,” said Douglas Neasloss, Kitasoo Band Councillor and Resource Stewardship Director.
“DFO’s blatant disregard for this conservation issue impacts us all.”
“We are saddened that it has come to this, but we cannot stand by while DFO uses flawed science to destroy a resource we have depended on for thousands of years. Industry must stay out of Area 7,” said Slett.
“If we don’t protect the herring, who will?”
Boats in Bella Bella were mobilizing last week to head out to the herring grounds.