Ahousaht hereditary leadership meets two of three fish farm protesters’ demands
By Denise Titian, Ha-Shilth-Sa, September 15, 2015
A small group of fish farm protesters calling themselves Ahousaht Muuschim and supporters accepted an invitation to meet with Ahousaht leadership and other band members at the Thunderbird Hall Sept. 14.
Tyee Ha’wilth (head chief) Lewis Maquinna George extended the invitation after protesters blocked the installation of Cermaq’s salmon farm just north of Ahousaht.
Chief Councillor Greg Louie spoke to Ha-Shilth-Sa immediately following the meeting, which included employees of Cermaq who are Ahousaht members.
He said it was respectful and productive. Ahousaht leadership, he said, was able to meet two of the protesters’ three demands, providing copies of all protocol agreements made between Ahousaht and the salmon farm company, and information on how much money Ahousaht received from the salmon farms and where that money is going and where it was spent.
Protesters also wanted written assurance from the Ha’wiih, chief and council and Cermaq that the Yaakswiis site is permanently off the table. They said if the three demands were met, they would stand down.
“They want the Yaakswiis system removed (but it’s still there) and so they’re staying,” Louie said of the protesters’ intentions to continue their blockade of the fish farm site.
“The Ha’wiih are doing their best to work with the protestors,” said Tyson Atleo, speaking on behalf of his father A-in-chut Shawn Atleo. “We are committed to work together to find solutions,” he continued.
He promised there would be more meetings and that the Ahousaht Ha’wiih would issue another letter in the coming days.
The blockade began Sept. 9 after Cermaq Canada sent contractors out in a barge to work on the newly assembled floating pens at Yaakswiis. A group of four or five protestors refused the workers access to the pens.
The new Yaakswiis salmon farm is a replacement for the Dixon Bay farm, which wasn’t ideally suited because of weaker tidal currents. Ahousaht Ha’wiih asked Cermaq Canada to move the Dixon Bay site and it took more than two years to get the necessary government approvals for Yaakswiis. Another site application Cermaq applied for was refused by government agencies.
In the beginning, the protesters said they were opposed to the location of the new Yaakswiis farm site, saying it was too close to a salmon-bearing river and clam beaches. They said they were not consulted by their leadership about the new site and they do not approve of it.
In a letter to Ahousaht members dated Sept. 10, 2015, the Ahousaht Ha’wiih (Hereditary Chiefs) committed to meeting with the people the following Monday in an effort to come to a resolution.
The protestors responded with a letter of their own reiterating their position that there was no prior informed consent or consensus ‘amongst the whole of Ahousaht membership’ in terms of the Yaakswiis farm.
Ha-Shilth-Sa has placed numerous calls to the protesters’ spokespeople, but we have received no response. We will update this story when we have heard from them.
Original Story (from Sept 10, 2015):
Environmental activists and a small group of Ahousaht members set up a blockade at the site of a new salmon farm pen that is being installed by Cermaq Canada in Ahousaht territory.
The net pens were newly-assembled and were to be towed to their government-approved site called Yaakswiis, just north of Ahousaht on Flores Island.
On Sept. 9, contractors hired by Cermaq to tow the net pens arrived at the site by barge. They were met by a handful of Ahousaht protesters, who prevented the contractors from undertaking their work.
The workers returned to Tofino, and Cermaq sent out an employee to monitor the site while four protestors hunkered down in their boat overnight.
On Sept. 10, Ahousaht Ha’wiih issued a statement to their people voicing their concern about the safety of all people attending the farm float at Yaakswiis. They called for calm and for people to be mindful of safety and respectful of property.
They committed to meeting with the people in the coming days.
“The Ha’wiih and leadership commit to engaging Ahousaht members in resolution based dialogue to be conducted in a calm, safe and respectful forum on Monday, Sept. 14,” said the statement.
“The Leadership respectfully request that those Ahousaht members involved in the active protest stand down to ensure the safety of all and to engage in dialogue,” the statement continued. It was signed by Ahousaht Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna on behalf of Ahousaht Ha’wiih.
Ahousaht First Nation has a working relationship with Cermaq Canada, bolstered by a mutually-beneficial protocol agreement dating back to 2002. The agreement allowed the parties to work together to establish a sustainable finfish aquaculture business. Ahousaht would receive job opportunities for its members, economic benefits and the assurance that the parties would share information in order to foster an atmosphere of trust and respect while Cermaq would be allowed to continue to operate in Ahousaht hahoulthee.
The protocol agreement has been renewed over the years, most recently in January 2015.
Ahousaht Ha’wiih (hereditary leaders) were aware that some members had concerns about the salmon farm site reassignment. According to an Aug. 11 message released by Maaqtusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society (MHSS) and Ahousaht Business Corporation, the Ha’wiih sought to assure members that they had been studying the tenure applications at length and determined that their best option was to move the Dixon Pass tenure to the better-suited site at Yaakswiis. The Ha’wiih consider Dixon Pass one of their pristine areas and requested that Cermaq move the net pen.
The Ha’wiih said they were keeping to their commitment to the community to remove the historically-poorly sited Dixon to a preferred, well-flushed, more suitable site, like Yaakswiis.
The planned move has been in the works for at least two years and was approved by both the Ha’wiih and by the previous elected Ahousaht chief and council.
Laurie Jensen of Cermaq Canada says her company works closely with Ahousaht and are respectful of their people and their processes. She said the Yaakswiis site was selected by Ahousaht back in 2010, but the move couldn’t be made until recently because it just takes that long to get all the government approvals in place.
“We really do value the relationship we have with Ahousaht and we are concerned about the safety of the people going out there,” Jensen said. There are safety issues that the work crews wanted to address on Sept. 9. The cages are floating, unanchored, in the water and are dangerous for anyone to be standing on.
“For us, it’s safety first, not only for the protestors but also for all Ahousaht people and our employees,” she said. The company hopes to be able to secure the cages to make them safe and to remove any navigation hazards.
Ahousaht member Lennie John is involved with the protest and is on record saying that Ahousaht members were not informed of the Yaakswiis site. Ahousaht member Thomas Paul is listed as a contact person for the protestors but could not be reached at press time.
The protocol agreement between Ahousaht and Cermaq followed a highly-publicized attempt in 2002 to close down a salmon farm in the territory after government red tape caused a lapse in operating permits for company.
Back then, the agreement was signed by Cermaq’s predecessor Pacific National Aquaculture or PNA.
The showdown was settled after both parties agreed to meet in Ahousaht to discuss their issues. In the end they reached an agreement that mapped out how Ahousaht and PNA could co-exist in the Ahousaht hahoulthee.
In its Aug. 11 statement to its members, MHSS announced the intention to begin a business feasibility study for an on-shore aquaculture operation that could be sited at the private property held by MHSS at Maatsquiaht.