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Aboriginal tribal groups from three states and the province of British Columbia are collectively suing their governments over the lack of a salmon treaty. The Tsilquot'in National Government is bringing the lawsuit before the courts. "We are a well organized tribal council and we will take the initiative to protect fundamental Aboriginal rights," explained Dan Wise, Tsilquot'in spokesman.
The Tsilquot'in Nation People live in a non-urban area near Williams Lake, in British Columbia. They follow a traditional lifestyle. Salmon is their staple food. It is dried, canned and frozen for year-round use. They and other Aboriginal people from Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, and British Columbia are concerned about the salmon war between commercial fishermen from Canada and the United States. They believe the current impasse threatens the spawning streams in their territories.
The Alaskan fishermen have been taking more than their share of spawning fish, according to federal Department of Fisheries officials in Vancouver. Alaska agreed that it would take only 120,000 sockeye in the Noyes area but, this year to date, Canadian officials say they have taken 600,000. These are Canadian sockeye, Fisheries officials say. Canadian government officials accuse the Alaskan government of sanctioning this over-fishing.
Canadian fishermen in the southern part of British Columbia threatened to retaliate by taking more than they should of the spawning fish headed for the Fraser river. These fish are the food fish for many of the Aboriginal people in the interior of BC, including the Tsilquot'in Nation. This is the fourth year without a salmon treaty. To date, Canada has exerted pressure on the United States to come up with a treaty, but has been unsuccessful. This year there was a stakeholders' process where shareholders from Canada and the United States had to come up with recommendations for a treaty. That process failed.
On July 25, following the blockade of an Alaskan ferry off Prince Rupert in protest of Alaskan over-fishing, two envoys were appointed: William Rucklehouse to represent the United States federal government and Dr. David Strangway to represent Canada. Their mandate is to come up with recommendations for a specific salmon treaty by the end of this year."There is a specific salmon commission that negotiates with the US, and there are First Nations people involved in that," said Diane Lake from the Department of Fisheries."Aboriginal people are part of the process in trying to hammer out an agreement, but so far they have not been successful."
The lack of a salmon treaty threatens Aboriginal rights to fish for food, something that ignores Canadian law as it was spelled in the Sparrow Case. "According to Sparrow, a Supreme Court case in 1990, the first priority in fishing is conservation to ensure that there are enough spawning salmon to replenish the stock. The second priority is Native subsistence fishing or food fish, and the third priority is commercial fishing," Tsilquot'in spokesman Wise explained.
David Anderson, Minister of Fisheries Canada