Letters to the Editor

Aboriginal commercial fisheries not a right

Re: “Don’t ignore aboriginal issues,” by Jeff Nagel, March 4.

Land-claim treaty negotiations and settlements with Canada’s aboriginal peoples are a political and moral necessity and responsibility.

Having said that, non-aboriginal governments, in their attempt to temporarily appease some aboriginal communities, have succumbed to external and internal pressures to establish permanent, though not constitutionally entrenched, aboriginal-only commercial fisheries.

Very few non-aboriginal commercial fishermen are against aboriginal fishermen having access to food and ceremonial salmon fisheries; after all, such fisheries have been around long before non-aboriginal people colonized this land.

But such fisheries no longer suffice for the vast majority of aboriginal bands who utilize the salmon resource: They now want – and have been granted by successive federal governments – aboriginal-only commercial salmon fisheries, wherein they sell their catches to commercial buyers.

If pre-colonization aboriginal tribes traded salmon with other tribes, then let them continue trading, for it is their inherent right to do so. However, fish companies were not established in this land until after colonization, and therefore aboriginal communities do not have a moral, legal or constitutional right to aboriginal-only commercial fisheries, which occur to this day.

Canada’s highest court has more than once ruled that although aboriginal peoples have an inalienable, first-in-line right to food/ceremonial fisheries, as they already do, they clearly have no inherent right to sell that fish commercially, and especially en masse. This means that aboriginal communities do not have a constitutional right to aboriginal-only commercial fisheries.

Aboriginal fishermen do fish commercially peacefully alongside non-aboriginal fishers during universal salmon-harvesting openings and sell to the same fish buyers. Nonetheless, aboriginal-only commercial fisheries result in resentment and racist sentiment against aboriginal peoples – especially when indebted non-aboriginal fishermen are simultaneously forbidden from making a living in a profession in which they’ve paid heavily for a commercial fishing licence.

Frank G. Sterle, Jr.

White Rock

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