Fish Farm Protest Camp in Victoria by Kwakwaka’wakw Grandmother
October 16, 2017 (Langford, Lekwungen Territories)
Kwakwaka’wakw grandmother and salmon protector Tsastilqualus Umbas from Yalis (Alert Bay) is ramping up support for her relatives at the Namgis and Musgamag’w fish farm occupations that have now continued for over 50 days—as well as the third occupation just launched at the Port Elizabeth farm.
She has committed to peacefully occupy the land next to Premier’s John Horgan’s constituency office until the NDP revokes tenure for fish farms: “Our demands are very simple and very important, close the fish farms and take them out of our waters; commit to cancel the tenures now”.
Her occupation was launched at a rally held by the advocacy group “Fish Farms Out Now!” on Friday October 13th that saw over 30 Indigenous and non Indigenous elders, youth and other supporters calling on the NDP to follow through on its commitment to end open-net fish farming.
The rally was held in response to Horgan’s unwillingness to make firm commitments to remove fish farms at an meeting with 40 hereditary and elected leaders in the big house on ‘Namgis territory on October 10th. In an unprecedented stand of unity, eight Nations had come together to inform Horgan and his attendant ministers—Lana Popham, Scott Fraser, and Claire Trevena—that the open net salmon farms operating in their territorial waters have devastated wild salmon stocks and violated multiple articles upheld by United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People—including that which upholds the right to free, prior and informed consent over resource exploitation on Indigenous territories.
“I’m holding this occupation for the salmon. We are the salmon people—salmon is in our DNA and salmon is in our ceremony” said Tsastilqualus. She added, “For the first time in my life, I don’t have salmon in my freezer for the winter.” This loss interrupts a relationship that stretches back 10,000 years, signaling the continued attack on indigenous peoples that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has called “cultural genocide”.
The situation intensified for fish farm occupiers this week as Marine Harvest began to restock its Port Elizabeth facility—whose permits expire this June—with fish that will take two years to reach maturity. Earlier in the week, Horgan stated that: “If those leases are up in less than two years, they shouldn’t be able to re-stock”.
As hundreds of thousands of fish enter the Port Elizabeth facility, Horgan’s assurances have begun to ring hollow for the Kwakwaka’wakw. The TRC states that “virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered” in pursuit of reconciliation. The report further explains that reconciliation “is not an Aboriginal problem. It is a Canadian one”.
The NDP has a problem on its hands: removing fish farms is the necessary response. Tsastilqualus, solidarity activists and Indigenous nations urge them to make the right choice.