Finding ways to support Nuu-chah-nulth Nations during COVID-19 closures

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused unprecedented changes in the way families, communities and cities around the world are functioning, and with workplaces also affected, Uu-a-thluk has made changes to its operations in order to continue providing fishery support services to Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

On March 19, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) announced a two-week operational closure (March 23 to April 3) in response to the spreading virus.

“It is acknowledged that the NTC needs to take immediate steps to uphold the health and safety of employees, clients and extended families; and, do our part to prevent the spread of this virus,” read a statement to staff.

While NTC offices have remained closed since March 23, Uu-a-thluk fisheries staff (in addition to numerous other NTC departments) have been working remotely since early April to deliver services that are deemed essential by the province of BC.

“Field work is challenging to do while meeting social distancing needs,” said Jim  Lane, Uu-a-thluk Deputy Program Manager.

Although Uu-a-thluk’s biologists have refrained from conducting field work at a time when they would normally be very active, they are keeping busy by working with Nuu-chah-nulth Nations on their reporting requirements.

Access to Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) fisheries has remained open (despite economic fisheries being on hold), which means Nations are required to report their catch.

Nations that fall under Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy are also required to submit their reports for the 2019/2020 fiscal year, and Uu-a-thluk’s biologists are providing support to those Nations’ fisheries managers, as they do every year.

Other projects Uu-a-thluk staff continue to work on remotely include working with the Nations and DFO on fishery planning and fishery management issues such as Fraser Chinook restrictions, finalizing a memorandum of understanding between Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, the Haida Nation and DFO on a proposed Marine Protected Area and a joint funding proposal between the Ha’oom Society and Uu-a-thluk to collect and document a set of Nuu-chah-nulth salmon laws.

Meetings between staff members, Nation members and partner agencies have been taking place over the phone, or via video conferencing.

“As challenging as the social distancing measures might be, we are lucky to have so many communications tools at our disposal,” said Irine Polyzogopoulos, Communications and Development Coordinator for Uu-a-thluk.

A virtual Uu-a-thluk Joint Technical Working Group meeting with DFO has been planned for May 28, to replace the meeting that would have taken place in person at the Tseshaht Great Room in Port Alberni.  

The Nuu-chah-nulth Council of Ha’wiih Forum Fisheries scheduled for June 9 to 10 at the Hupacasath House of Gathering in Port Alberni has not been cancelled yet, though Uu-a-thluk staff are doubtful it will proceed given the province’s social distancing protocols.

One area Uu-a-thluk has moved forward on without any delay is the recruitment of our new Capacity Building Coordinator.

On April 1, we welcomed Alison Wale, a member of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation who was raised in Nuu-chah-nulth territory.

A graduate of Vancouver Island University’s Resource Management Officer Technologies Program, Wale has worked as a consultant on oil spill clean up and as a data specialist for the NTC’s Pre-Employment Supports Department. She has also studied Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

“I’m delighted to join Uu-a-thluk,” said Wale during her first video conference with the team.

Wale’s orientation to her new role has not been a typical experience as it has all been done remotely, but outgoing Capacity Building Coordinator Aline Carrier has put many hours into connecting with her online to make the training as smooth as possible.

Carrier is orienting Wale as she wraps up her extended maternity back fill for Michelle Colyn (who will not be returning as Uu-a-thluk’s Capacity Building Coordinator). She is also transitioning into her new role as Capacity Building Coordinator – Marine Emergency Preparedness with Uu-a-thluk at the same time.

Carrier will work with Nuu-chah-nulth Nations to enhance their capacity in marine emergency response and integrated environmental response in the event of ship-sourced oil spills; her work will also include developing training plans to complement capacity building structures already in place in the communities.  

Uu-a-thluk staff will continue to be available by phone, email and video conferencing for Nuu-chah-nulth fisheries departments during COVID-19 closures.

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