Snuneymuxw Chief gives fish-farm protesters a history lesson
When the Get Out Migration fish-farm protesters came to Nanaimo in early May, Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White III welcomed them with words about the deeper meanings on the sacredness of the salmon.
‘Wild Salmon Are Sacred’ was the label that the group attached to its website, to the many hand-made signs and many of the speeches that were given during the 500-km trek from Port McNeil to the BC Parliament building in Victoria.
“Salmon are sacred and I am honoured that you recognize that,” White said as he gave a mini-history lesson to the 200 people gathered in a waterside park overlooking Nanaimo’s harbour.
He talked about the first salmon ceremony that his people held in centuries past.
Celebrating the first salmon
“Our first salmon ceremony took place at Jack Point just across the water from where we are at. Our sacred salmon petroglyph was recently returned to that place. I was raised up by my grandmother and my grandfather to know about that petroglyph, to know about its use. It was a keystone in our relationship with salmon as a people… in a sacred relationship.
“The Snuneymuxw people have a treaty from 1854, wherein the Crown provided recognition for our way of life. An important component of that way of life was that the Snuneymuxw people should carry on their fisheries as formerly.
“We uphold that relationship as much as we can and we are happy to see the reflection in Canadians here today of that relationship, of that recognition of the sacredness of that relationship that the Snuneymuxw people have with salmon.
“Most importantly, it is the strength and the willingness of our people to stand up for what is important, for what we value. Whenever the Crown makes decisions that do not line up with our own basic core beliefs, we have a strength, perseverance, courage and the teachings to stand up and express that we disagree.
“I want to recognize that that is what everyone is doing here today, led by Alexandra Morton. I want to honor that and thank you.”
Salmon walk not always easy going
Darren-Blaney-during-the-ma When Alexandra Morton and about 30 other people – ages 10 and up – traveled through Naut’sa mawt Tribal Council nations on Vancouver Island recently, there was mixed support from First Nation peoples for the campaign against salmon farming.
Snaw-naw-as First Nation opened the doors of its community hall to the walkers as Wilson Bob’s family hosted a feast. And the Snaw-naw-as campground was a home for two nights for the protesters.
But even as the protesters were arriving, the value of Morton’s long campaign against salmon farming was being questioned at the Coast First Nations Resource Opportunities conference in downtown Nanaimo.
“I wish they would take all that money and all that science and work with the industry and with government to make sure fish farming is safe,” said one attendee from Alert Bay who did not want to be identified.
“Salmon farms are about the only thing we have going for jobs on the North Island,” he said. “I don’t think you will see too many First Nation people getting behind Alexandra Morton. We have too many of our own battles to fight and one of them is economic development, which is why I am here today.”
Morton has always been clear about her intentions to get governments to remove the impact of salmon farms on wild fish and ecosystems.
“Government does not appear to understand the value of wild salmon,” Morton said. “Salmon farming is impacting wild salmon populations worldwide because, like all feedlots, it intensifies disease and this is lethal to wild fish.
” I’m really moved
I’m really moved to see so many people together working for our cause. And I want to say ‘Thank you’ to Wilson Bob and his family for the feast and allowing us on your land today. I hope you all understand in your spirit that the outcome of the march will celebrate a victory together. – Kelly John, Nuu-chah-nulth