Farming salmon with respect for the indigenous land and peoples
Grieg Seafood operates many farms in British Columbia, but they are not owned by the Canadian Government.
“For millennia, sustainable harvest of the nature has given our people food, shelter and medicines.”
CHIEF SMITH TOGETHER WITH MARILYN HUTCHINSON
Director of Indigenous and Community Relations
Grieg Seafood BC
“Nature means everything to us,” says John Smith, Chief of the Tlowitsis Nation, counting 450 members today. They are one of 603 First Nations in Canada, one-third of which are located in British Columbia.
“For millennia, the sustainable harvest of nature has given our people food, shelter and medicines,” Chief Smith explains.
Three of Grieg Seafood’s farms, Noo-la, Wa-kwa and Tsa-ya, are located in the Clio Channel, which is a part of the Tlowitsis’ traditional territory.
While wild Pacific salmon has always been a vital part of the British Columbia’s working and Indigenous history, the first fish farms were established in the 1970s by the Norwegian salmon farming industry. The way it was done is not without controversy.
“The industry got permission from the government, but none of the parties consulted with Indigenous communities. They did not think about that back then. For First Nations, the real owners of the territories, the lack of consultation was a breach of trust,” says Marilyn Hutchinson, Director of Indigenous and Community Relations at Grieg Seafood British Columbia.
Canada, like Norway and many other states with Indigenous peoples, pursued assimilation policies via a residential school system until 1969. Children were taken away from their families and Indigenous languages were banned.
Today, the Government of Canada has a different attitude. In 2017, it announced that it will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which Canada had only previously accepted on paper. In 2022, the Government of British Columbia will require a salmon farming company to have a federal permission licence and an agreement with the Nation in whose traditional territory the farms are located.
“Grieg Seafood supports the implementation of UNDRIP. We view the new policy as an opportunity to form relationships with more nations, and to strengthen our existing relationships,” Marilyn Hutchinson says.
UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES (UNDRIP), ARTICLE 28
|1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
|2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.|
The Tlowitsis Nation is one of the Nations that has a partnership with Grieg Seafood.
“Working with the industries provides economic support and helps us improve the future for our communities. We have worked with the logging industry before, and now we are working with the salmon farming industry,” says Chief Smith.
A partnership usually contains financial contributions, training programs, support for Indigenous initiatives and assistance for Indigenous aquaculture projects. Partnerships also provide assurance that Grieg Seafood does not employ practices that harm the wild salmon.
“Wild Pacific salmon is at the very heart of Indigenous cultures here in British Columbia. It has not only been important as food, it also has social and ceremonial meaning. It is crucial that our farming practices allow wild salmon and farmed salmon to co-exist. Taking care of the wild salmon is a part of respecting First Nations,” explains Hutchinson.
Grieg Seafood is involved in several wild salmon preservation projects in the region. The Nootka Sound Watershed Society is one such initiative, which brings Indigenous groups, authorities, eNGOs and industries together to protect, restore and enhance the wild salmon in the Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet areas. The Society engages in wild salmon hatchery programs in the Gold River and the Burman River, performs habitat status assessments on local watersheds and has constructed a side channel to the Conuma River to boost wild salmon spawning.
“In the end, however, the most important action we can do is to ensure that our environmental footprint is as low as possible. We have worked a lot on that,” says Hutchinson.
WORKING IN ANCESTRAL TERRITORY
At the Noo-la farm, Grieg Seafood employee Marvin Antoniuk is looking for sick fish in the pens, a part of the daily routine to ensure good fish welfare. He belongs to the Tlowitsis Nation and is now working in his ancestors’ traditional territory in the Clio Channel. Around 10 percent of Grieg Seafood’s employees in British Columbia are Indigenous persons.
“My mother is buried not too far from here, and I can feel her presence all over the territory. This land is very dear to me. I enjoy working with the fish here, and I think we must continuously work to improve our practices,” Antoniuk says passionately.
Today, the Tlowitsis people do not live on their traditional territory. On behalf of his community, Chief John Smith has bought 600 acres of land in Campbell River, a town on Vancouver Island close to the Tlowitsis territory.
“It is time to rebuild the Tlowitsis community,” he says. “I want our people to be able to come home.”