VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – A native band on Vancouver Island sued the Canadian government and a fish farm operator for failing to consult it before issuing fish farming licenses near the band’s traditional territory.
The Ehattesaht First Nation seeks judicial review in Federal Court. It claims the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans failed to consult it before issuing licenses to Grieg Seafood B.C. Ltd.
Recent court decisions have upheld the band’s aboriginal fishing rights in its traditional territory, and other rulings have determined that the Canadian government, not the British Columbia provincial government, is responsible for fish farm regulations, the band says. Fish farm operators must obtain a license from the federal government and a “provincial tenure” before beginning operations.
“By issuing licences and granting tenures to authorize Grieg to operate fish farms in and around Ehattesaht territory, the Crown authorizes infringements to and impacts on those rights and title,” the band claims. “Despite repeated requests and proposals from Ehattesaht since at least February 2008, British Columbia has failed to engage Ehattesaht in meaningful consultation with respect to fish farms. The Crown has regularly issued licences and tenures to Grieg without notifying, let alone consulting, Ehattesaht.”
The band claims the Canadian government unconstitutionally passes the buck to the provincial government, despite exclusive federal jurisdiction over Canada’s aquaculture.
The Ehattesaht’s population was decimated by contact with Europeans, although membership has been rising since 1929, when records showed that only 50 members remained. The band depends on fishing, logging and tourism which “provide the only economic opportunities in the Territory,” the complaint states.
“Opportunities to fish within Ehattesaht Territory are limited,” the band says. “The presence of fish farms has reduced those opportunities by obstructing preferred fishing sites and preventing the use of preferred means to fish.”
As a result, the band says, it was forced to fish outside of its traditional territory last summer and its harvest was seized by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The Ehattesaht seek declarations invalidating decisions allowing for expanded fish farm operations near their traditional territory and an injunction restraining the government from authorizing any more fish farms “until Canada has met its duty to consult the Ehattesaht First Nation.”
The Ehattesaht First Nation is represented by James Tate of Ratcliffe & Company.
The Ehattesaht speak a Wakashan language, which is of great interest to linguists, for its complexity, its 12 dialects, and because it was one of the first native languages in what is now known as Canada that was recorded and studied, if cursorily, by Anglos.