More than 50 people came out to the Cheam Fishing Village campground on Monday, to promote unity between Indigenous and recreational fishers. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

First Nations, anglers gather at Cheam Fishing Village to dispel tension during tough season

A message of unity was common, but one cautioned tensions would get worse before they got better

It was a message of healing and collaboration that the Fraser River Peacemakers, the Cheam First Nation and the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers hoped to put out at a riverside gathering Monday (Aug. 26).

The event saw more than 50 people come out to the Cheam Fishing Village campground to promote acceptance and understanding between recreational anglers and the First Nations fishing community.

“A lot of our First Nations chief and councillors have gone through a lot of trouble on the river, not just with our own people, but sometimes with the non-native people,” said Ernie Victor, fisheries coordinator at the Sto:lo Research and Resource Management Centre. “There’s been different ways of dealing with these issues.

“At one point, there was some pretty tough circumstances that took place, with guns and paddles, outright violence,” he continued. “That kind of behaviour on the river is dangerous, and it doesn’t add anything to our fishery.”

RELATED: Gathering on the Fraser to foster mutual respect for fisheries

Throughout the event, speakers shared their views on the importance of coming together to protect the resources in the river, particularly during a devastating year for salmon runs.

“We certainly don’t have to tell any of you here that the year 2019 is without a doubt some of the worst salmon runs we’ve ever seen,” Rod Clapton, president of the Fraser River Peacemakers, said. “It totally shut down the recreational fishery, and it created very serious hardship for our First Nations communities.”

“We must put aside past differences, which we’ve tried to do over the years, and work together to save our salmon and steelhead,” he continued. “We have to try to ignore some of the negativity that’s out there, some of the divisiveness, and certainly some of the comments that are out there on the websites.”

There is currently no recreational fishing for salmon on the Fraser River until further notice, because of extremely low returns of sockeye. First Nations fisheries have been able to operate on a limited scale for chinook salmon.

RELATED: B.C. First Nations call for closure to commercial, recreational fishing on Fraser River

Clapton continued, saying that both recreational and Indigenous fishers had the same agenda “and that is to try and get the fish back.” The young people of the future, including his grandchildren and other children at the event, were the hope for the future.

“These people are the future stewards,” Clapton said. “We have to find a way to preserve our precious resource for our respective future generations.”

Cheam council member Andrew Victor with Chief Ernie Crey during the honouring ceremony at the Peacemakers gathering Monday. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

In addition to the speeches about the need for change in the fishing community, there was also an honouring ceremony for Cheam chief Ernie Crey.

All attendees stood around Crey and his family, as Cheam band members sang and drummed behind them. People lined up to shake Crey’s hand or hug him, and several people spoke about the commitment Crey has given to the fishing community.

“The land that we have, we have to look after it. We have to cherish it and honour it,” Kelsey Charlie said. “All of us have to look after it.

“The endeavour we have before us is quite the endeavour, because there’s so many users and there’s so many things that create conflict,” he continued. “It takes many hands to make the load light, but he’s carried that load for a long time. And we’re all grateful for that.”

Although the overall message was one of unity, not everyone saw it with such a rosy view. Several people spoke against the Department of Fisheries management practices, saying they were neglecting their duties to both First Nations and conservation.

“Right now I feel, and I do see it all the time, that the government is failing us in managing our foreshores,” Victor said.

RELATED: Emergency size limits coming to protect at-risk chinook salmon

Grand Chief Doug Kelly speaking at the Fraser River Peacemakers event Monday. Unlike many of the speakers at the gathering, Kelly said that tensions haven’t improved along the river in the last 10 years and that things would get worse before they get better. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Grand Chief Doug Kelly also spoke against the DFO’s management practices, as well as “feel-good agreements” between First Nations and recreational fishers that he said haven’t done anything to truly improve tensions on the river.

“The way forward is going to be conflict. That’s all there is to it,” Kelly said. “It won’t change unless we change. It won’t change as long as leaders claim leadership jobs, but don’t actually have influence over their members.

“You can say all you want here, in terms of kind intentions,” he continued. “You can sign as many papers as you want to sign, with good words on it. But if you can’t deliver your people to uphold those standards, you’re just pretending.”

Kelly went on to say that, although papers have been signed with these good words, he hasn’t seen the change on the river.

“Our people are not getting respect from others that are on the water,” he said. “I’m not at all interested in signing feel-good agreements. I want to see change. Our people want to see change. And if that’s something that recreational fishers want to do, then we’re happy to work with them.”

In order to see the change, Kelly continued, fishers need to speak to each other with love and respectful understanding. “But we’re not there yet,” he said.

“We are not anywhere near it yet. And it’s going to get a whole lot worse, before it gets better.”



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