Imagine, if you will, uniformed officers entering a Catholic church to arrest a priest for giving communion.
A frightening and sacrilegious act not to be tolerated.
Yet that’s the way outspoken local Sto:lo leader Ernie Crey compares what federal fisheries officers did to Shxwha:y Village Chief Robert Gladstone a year ago when they charged him for taking a single salmon from the Fraser River for ceremonial purposes.
“We only needed one spring salmon for the ceremony,” Crey told the Times about the incident that sees Gladstone in court in Chilliwack next Tuesday.
“I’m trying to make people understand what the DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceeans] did in charging Robert. This is how grievous what they did to us is.”
The incident took place in March of 2015. That’s when Gladstone said DFO would not authorize a Pilalt ceremonial fishery. Pilalt is a group of local Fraser River First Nations bands.
The First Salmon Ceremony is traditional among local Sto:lo bands to honour the fish that are sacred to the people, and to usher in the return of the salmon to the Fraser.
Issues over commercial and First Nations fishing on the Fraser River have endured for decades and battles have raged over allowable catches, who gets to fish when and where, not to mention dwindling returns. Yet DFO frequently gives licences for what are known as food social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries on the river. So the refusal of last spring’s permit is troubling and confusing, particularly because fish, as always, were coming out of water to the west where sport anglers already enjoyed their pastime.
“Fraser River chinook salmon at that time of the year were being caught out in the marine waters in sport and, I think, commercial fisheries,” Crey said. “Fish bound for the Fraser River.
“We only wanted to catch one fish.”
Robert Stanley Alexander Gladstone faces one charge of contravening Fisheries Act or regulations under it. His first appearance on the charge in connection with the incident from March 26, 2015 was Jan. 5, 2016. He is scheduled to be arraigned on May 10.
An increasingly growing group is banding together to protest on the steps of the Chilliwack Law Courts for Gladstone’s May 10 court appearance.
A number of Sto:lo Grand Chiefs have confirmed their attendance and dozens of other band members and supporters are expected.