Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida Nations are in the process of finalizing a promising new agreement that will see the Nations working together on critical objectives relating to the ocean.

The draft agreement, which was signed by Nuu-chah-nulth Ha’wiih at the June 12-13 Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries, has been passed on to the Council of the Haida Nation for signature. 

“This was really important to do,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Judith Sayers in her Port Alberni office. “We have so many fisheries issues in common with the Haida, from the Marine Protected Area to oil tanker threats.”

Currently three pages in length, the draft agreement outlines the purpose and approach of the Nations’ agreement, and defines dialogue topics and procedural guidelines for decision-making.

“Our Nations share concerns about the impacts of human activities on future generations and are working to improve protection of the ocean and marine species and ensure ecologically sustainable fisheries,” states the agreement.

The Nations have tentatively agreed to discuss topics of mutual concern through two platforms; the Oceans Dialogue Forum and the Technical Committee (which supports the Forum).  The Council of Ha’wiih and Haida Nation will each appoint a chairperson and alternate for both the Forum and the Technical Committee. In the meantime, Sayers will act as the interim Nuu-chah-nulth chairperson for the Forum, and Eric Angel (Uu-a-thluk Program Manager) for the Technical Committee.

Priority topics identified in the draft agreement include policies for management of Pacific herring, the appeal of the Ahousaht et al justification trial decision (in which the Haida Nation is named as an intervenor) and the Haida title case which is currently in a pre-trial phase. Other topics include a ban on foreign super trawlers on the BC coast and conservation of West Coast Vancouver Island (WCVI) Chinook salmon; it was the Nuu-chah-nulth concern for WCVI wild Chinook stocks that was the initial impetus for reaching out to the Haida Nation.

Saya Masso, Natural Resources Manager for Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Roger Dunlop, Uu-a-thluk Northern Region Biologist, had recognized the need to address the harvest of larger, older Chinook (females, specifically) in northern BC recreational fisheries, and to find a new way to invigorate a Chinook rebuilding strategy that had become stagnant under DFO’s management regime.

An April 24, 2018 letter to Peter Lantin, President of the Council of the Haida Nation, requesting an opportunity to discuss Chinook rebuilding plans was met favourably and the first meeting between the respective parties took place in September 2018 at the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative offices in Vancouver.

Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are keen to create an environment where discussions around the inter-connectedness of natural systems are at the core of the dialogue (hishukish ts’awalk: everything is one, everything is connected).

“When we speak to governments, they want to talk about one issue at a time, and they steadfastly refuse to discuss solid connections that exist between things,” remarked Angel, with passion. 

The combination of the Nations’ desire to steer the path of oceans dialogue into a more holistic, productive direction and the Haida Nation’s experience in treaty-making and governance of protected areas is a recipe for success.

“We co-manage a variety of protected areas including Gwaii Haanas, SGaan Kinghlas – Bowie Seamount and several CHN-BC protected areas with terrestrial and marine components,” said Russ Jones, Haida Ocean Technical Team Contractor and newly appointed Pacific Salmon Commissioner, in an email to Uu-a-thluk.

Jones added, “We have been involved in marine planning with Canada, the Province of BC and other First Nations and several collaborative plans are in place. The Haida Nation has a long-standing fisheries program and is involved in management, assessment and planning of salmon, herring and shellfish fisheries in our territory.”

Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida Nation territories are included in a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) that has been identified by Canada as an Offshore Area of Interest, and the Nations have agreed to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with Canada around the planning process for the area.

“We’re also trying to include [in the future] the Quatsino and Pacheedaht Nations, because they are also in the area of interest for the MPA, and if our groups join together for the west coast of British Columbia, it would be really good,” said Sayers.  Angel added, “…There’s certainly an appetite for inviting the Makah, and at the north end of things, Haida have close relations with Nations in Alaska that could also be interested.”

Angel highlighted the fact that the agreement between Nations is about natural systems, and that those systems, which are the priority, were in existence long before the creation of international boundaries. The migration of salmon is a prominent example of this.

 Part of the long-term vision for the Nuu-chah-nulth-Haida ocean collaboration includes expansion of the Nuu-chah-nulth Salmon Park concept into a marine area that covers the entire migratory route of salmon. This would provide wild salmon the attention, protection and support they desperately require.