Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council celebrates BC Court of Appeal decision on commercial fishery

AFTER waiting 26 long months for a decision from the BC Court of Appeal in the Ahousaht et al case, the court has unanimously ruled that the Federal Government has been infringing on the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ right to a commercial fishery said the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) on Monday. The NTC said it is excited and relieved that the courts have finally confirmed this right that the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations know they have held since the beginning of time. The right to a commercial fishery also went to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014, when Canada was denied leave to appeal the decision of the lower courts, and has still not been implemented.

“In this current reality of reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the Federal Government’s commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, First Nations should not have to go to court twice to get their rights implemented by the Federal Government. But by so doing, we got the victory we wanted. Today we mark this day as a long-awaited decision and know our ancestors are celebrating with us,” said Kekinusuqs, Judith Sayers, NTC President. 

“The Court of Appeal clearly stated that the justice at the BC Supreme Court could not impose new limits on this right and that the commercial right to a fishery was a priority to other fisheries,” she added.

Elmer Frank and Terry Crosine show off their catch from the first T’aaq-wiihak prawn fishery, May 2019.  Photo: Irine Polyzogopoulos, Uu-a-thluk

The commercial fishermen of the Five Nations represented in the Ahousaht et al case have long been waiting to get back onto the waters to fully exercise their right to a commercial fishery. For many years, they have been limited to a very small fishery and this has not been acceptable as fishing is a way of life for them. Now, the Court of Appeal has agreed with them, and we are urging Fisheries and Oceans Canada to act immediately in implementing the court ruling, said the NTC.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” said Mariah Charleson, NTC Vice President. “I am discouraged that Canada went to this length to deny their infringement of our inherent rights, but today we celebrate. Today’s decision lets the entire world know what we as Nuu-chah-nulth-aht have known for a very long time; that our rights have been, and continue to be, infringed upon by Canada. With this acknowledgement, we can begin to work together and move forward in a good way,” she added.

The NTC said it would like to extend its gratitude to those First Nations and organizations that have supported Nuu-chah-nulth Nations through these two court cases and voiced their support.