PRESS RELEASE 04 July 2000
The treaty process is failing us. We have negotiated in good faith with the Crown, yet our people remain poor and to this day we have a negligible share of the wealth our lands generate. As time marches on, we have less and less to negotiate for as we witness the depletion of our resources by others. Our children have less and less with which to build a future.
Another approach is now necessary. We believe we have no choice but to take the Government to court.
For many centuries prior to European settlement, the Heiltsuk people were strong and prosperous. We traded significant quantities of goods, including herring spawn harvested from our traditional territories, with other First Nations in what is now known as the province of British Columbia. As a result of this trade and the natural wealth of our territories, the Heiltsuk people were a healthy and thriving Nation. However, the prosperity of the Heiltsuk was severely undermined with the advent of colonization, as reflected in the unjustified confiscation of our lands and resources by the Crown. The enactment of the Indian Act and the Fisheries Act further compounded this injustice.
Our language, our culture and our lands have not been recognized, respected or protected by the Government of Canada; we have suffered greatly as a result. We are nonetheless determined to reaffirm our profound relationship with our traditional lands and resources. We are determined to once again find our place as Heiltsuk people.
We are proceeding with a lawsuit against the Government of Canada in relation to the unjustified infringement of our aboriginal right to trade and sell herring spawn. In the 1996 Gladstone decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized and affirmed that the Heiltsuk people have a constitutional right to trade and sell herring spawn on kelp on a commercial basis. Since 1996, and indeed before then, we have been frustrated in our attempts to obtain a fair allocation of the herring spawn industry.
Despite years of litigation in affirming our aboriginal right to sell herring spawn-on-kelp and despite years of negotiations in order to ensure the meaningful and proper expression of this right, we must once again go back to court in order to be compensated for our losses in not being permitted to exercise our right, and in order to prevent the Government of Canada from continuing to unjustifiably infringe an aboriginal right which the Supreme Court of Canada has already recognized and affirmed.
Far from honouring our aboriginal right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Government of Canada has made a mockery of it. While our people represent about 30 percent of the population of the Central Coast of British Columbia, we have been allocated approximately 5 percent of the total herring fishery catch quota. This must not be permitted to continue.
For further information, please contact Robert Germyn, Chief Councillor at 250-957-2381 or Kelly Brown, Treaty Office, at 250-957-2354. FAX (604) 957-2134