Oceans Dialogue Forum brings together Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida Nations

On November 7 and 8, members of Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida Nations met to discuss oceans issues of mutual concern and to identify areas for continued collaboration.

The Oceans Dialogue Forum was the third of its kind, but the first to see Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida representatives meeting in person.

More than 30 people including hereditary chiefs and fisheries staff attended the meeting in Port Alberni, with another 20 people participating virtually, through Zoom.

“To feel the power, to feel the leadership, and to see and sit and hear the stories … it’s amazing,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Vice President Les Doiron, who co-chaired the meeting with Council of the Haida Nation’s Gwiisihlgaa, Dan McNeill.

Following a cultural opening by Tseshaht First Nation, agenda discussions kicked off with an update on the respective nations’ legal proceedings.

Howie Wright, Executive Director of the Ha’oom Fisheries Society, advised that implementation of the Five Nations’ fishing rights remains a work in progress. According to Wright, the Nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are working on another interim reconciliation agreement as negotiations are still underway after three years of talks.

“Part of the main issue is that DFO keeps wanting to bring in F&C [Food and Ceremonial] allocations, but for the Nations, that’s separate,” said Wright.

For the Council of the Haida Nation, Elected President, Gaagwiis, Jason Alsop, advised that a trial date has been set for February 2025 in the nation’s title case.

The case, which has been ongoing since 2002, has the Haida maintaining that they are the title and rights holders to all Haida territory, including the land, the sea, and the air.

“We’ve never surrendered our territory, never signed a treaty and never been defeated in battle, but as you know, these positions are opposed by the crown who try to describe us as small little bands,” said Alsop.

The nations discussed their approaches to salmon and herring rebuilding extensively, noting the cultural importance the species hold within their communities and the need to rebuild populations. Both Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida Nations stand firm that regular commercial seine and gillnet herring fisheries will not occur in their respective ha-ha-houlthee (chiefly territories), to continue allowing stocks to rebuild.

Uu-a-thluk Acting Program Manager, Jim Lane, informed the table that having Nuu-chah-nulth priorities for West Coast Vancouver Island Chinook rebuilding recognized by DFO has been a frustrating, multi-year process.

“They’re now just beginning to incorporate what the nations’ objectives are for rebuilding their Chinook stocks,” said Lane.

Lane added that Jared Dick, Uu-athluk’s Central Region Biologist, is off on educational leave to further explore Nuu-chah-nulth priorities with Nuu-chah-nulth elders, Ha’wiih and other community members, as part of his master’s thesis. The results of Dick’s research will contribute to a greater Nuu-chah-nulth component for the rebuilding plan, and to refining Nuu-chahnulth objectives.

Lengthy discussions around the nations’ representation in the Pacific Salmon Commission, Salmon Allocation Policy review and Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST) processes highlighted the importance of First Nations input.

“We want to have a more equal say with Canada, on what happens in the treaty process … we’re looking to move it to the next step of shared decision-making over the long term,” said Haida hereditary chief, Nang Jingwas, Russ Jones.

The table recognized the need to partner with US tribes (Alaska and Washington) to bolster First Nations input into the PST process and achieve the nations’ objectives.

Forum discussions also included substantial discussions around groundfish, marine shipping, the Tang.ɢwan · ḥačxʷiqak · Tsig̱is Marine Protected Area (MPA), a joint agreement for co-management between Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Pacheedaht and Quatsino First Nations and DFO.

Sea otter management was also discussed. A collaborative ‘Sea Otter Action Plan’ has been developed between the nations, and communicating the intent of the plan to key audiences will be a priority over the next year.

Special focus will be given to outreach with Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth youth.

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