With bleak prospects for this year’s fishing season due to the Big Bar slide, four Tsilhqot’in communities have purchased hundreds of fish from a Coastal First Nation.
On Wednesday morning, Clayton Mortensen of Lake City Glass in Williams Lake was moving 1,000 pound totes of coho off a flatbed trailer and truck belonging to the Okanagan Nations Alliance who transported the salmon from Ahousaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Tl’esqox Chief Francis Laceese said salmon are a main food source and have always been for members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
“We’ve fished for thousands of years — it’s part of our rights and title,” he told the Tribune Wednesday.
Normally his community fishes at nearby Farwell Canyon or on IR#3, a 15-acre spot on the Fraser River where they have a fishing site.
Laceese said they’ve purchased 600 salmon and other communities have ordered more or less.
“I’ve always said we should have a back-up plan in case the water got too warm in the rivers and have said we would have to team up with other nations,” he said.
Laceese and Jimmy Lulua, Chief of Xeni Gwet’in said they are also encouraging their members who are able, to fish local lakes for trout.
“We might even have a culture camp in the winter to do some ice fishing,” Laceese said.
Lulua said the band set aside $10,000 to buy fish for the elders and community events.
“We are encouraging everyone that is able to hunt for deer and utilize our lakes to fish,” Lulua said. “Never in our history have we had to buy fish. We always traded.”
The link with the community of Ahousaht was forged by Shawn Atleo, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, along with his wife Heather have been working for the Tsilhqot’in National Government’s negotiation team for the last three years on the its rights and title case implementation.
“Through Shawn we were able to get fish from them,” Lulua said. “Some of our elders were saying the fish are richer than they are used to.”
On Friday, Aug. 30, the TNG announced a suspension of retention of all salmon from the Chilcotin, Chilko and Taseko rivers and all their tributaries to conserve salmon stocks in light of the Big Bar slide.
Lulua said the sport fishery on the Fraser River has not been closed which he feels is a ‘wrinkle’ in the TNG’s relationship with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“The mandate we’ve heard from DFO is that First Nations come first so if the First Nations fishery is shut down then all fisheries are shut down. We will see what comes. They did tell us we will have an international seat and they are working on that, but it has not happened yet.”
There are spawning beds in title land, Lulua added.
“We are basically the mother that hosts the fish and once they go down to the ocean we don’t have any jurisdiction. We want to have a say on things that are happening to the fish. We need to have a certain amount of fish returning every year and our people should never ever have to worry about fish. Now every year we are having to worry about fish. Things have to change and we will make those changes.”