This win of commercial fishing rights in British Columbia now puts us into the same position - We can now demand that the lawyers here in Australia argue for these same inherent rights. Never let them tell you that it cannot be done ... and stop negotiating ILUA's and do not agree to Consent Determinations, because you will signing your rights away.- Michael Anderson
Derrick West Coast Native News 4 July 2013
The British Columbia (B.C.) Court of Appeal has ruled a Vancouver Island First Nation has the right to conduct commercial fisheries.
The 10-year legal fight over fish and shellfish fisheries wound its way to the Supreme Court of Canada before the final word was released Wednesday from the province's appeal court.
The Nuu-chah-nulth went to court saying its people have been fishing and trading their catch long before Europeans arrived, and that translates to modern-commercial fishing rights.
The Canadian and B.C. governments, along with several interveners, challenged the claim to the Supreme Court of Canada, which then referred the case back to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The appeal court has now upheld the lower court ruling that said the Nuu-chah-nulth had long-standing trade networks, and that trading in fisheries resources was part of the culture around the time of first contact.
"The evidence that was accepted by the trial judge supported the thesis that a variety of fish species were harvested and traded by ancestors of the respondents," Justice John hall said in his ruling.
The Nuu-chah-nulth represent more than a dozen First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island, including the Ahousaht, home to Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo.
Atleo praised the decision and said the ruling should spur the federal government to negotiate a commercial harvest for the Nuu-cha-nulth.
"Once again the courts have upheld our inherent rights to a commercial fishery as we, the Nuu-chah-nulth, have fully demonstrated that both harvesting and selling fish were and continue to be integral to our society and economy," Atleo said in a news release.
"Governments must finally get to the negotiating table as instructed by the courts to recognize and reconcile our rights."
First Nations in British Columbia 5 July 2013
Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations Win Appeal on right to a Commercial Fishery
On July 2, 2013, the BC Court of Appeal delivered their decision in Ahousaht et al vs. The Attorney General of Canada et al. The court upheld the decision of the BC Supreme Court Decision made on November 3, 2009, by Justice Carson (as she then was) that the Nuu-chah-nulth have an aboriginal right to fish all species and to sell that fish. A major victory indeed!
This right to a commercial fishery case has a long history. In the 90’s, there were 13 First Nations who were negotiating together in the BC treaty process. Recognizing that the federal government was not going to be negotiating fairly on fisheries, (indeed, fisheries has now been taken off the treaty tables list of items to negotiate), the 13 Nuu-chah-nulth Nations decided to hire researchers to begin the necessary documentation to establish our right to a commercial fishery. This was years before a decision was made to take the issue to court but we had a back-up plan in place. We diligently and in good faith negotiated fish and fish resources at the treaty table to no avail. I remember having special one week negotiations just on fisheries just to try and come to some agreement on what would be in the Agreement in Principle regarding our right to fish. There was no meeting of the minds, so, the decision was made to go to court and the writ was filed in 2003.
The court case was commenced with all of the 13 Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. The Federal government as preliminary motions before the trial of the issue argued that there could be no overlapping claims of the 13 Nations. The justice agreed and we were given a time limit on which to resolve our overlaps. If we didn’t resolve them, we were to have our names dropped off the hearings of what was to be phase 1 of this case. Several First Nations, including the Hupacasath were not able to resolve our overlaps, and despite the money and time we had invested in the case, we were dropped from the law suit. Another attrition of First Nations occurred when the Maa-nulth were concluding their final agreement and in order to get the final agreement, they had to remove their names from the law suit. They settled for this clause in their Final Agreement:
10.2.3: If the highest domestic court that considers the Litigation determines that one or more of the plaintiffs has an aboriginal right to fish for salmon, halibut, Rockfish, roe herring, sablefish, prawn or crab and to sell the fish caught under that right on a commercial basis, upon the written request of the Maa-nulth First Nations provided within eight years of such determination, the Parties will amend this Agreement and the Harvest Agreement as described in the Harvest Agreement.
So the result of all of the wrangling by the federal government was that 5 of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, the Ahousaht, Ehattesaht, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tla-o-qui-aht went to trial and won at the BC Supreme Court.
What did the BC Supreme Court decide?
Of course the Federal government appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the BC Supreme Court. The Federal government then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada had just given the decision in the Lax Kw’alaams case and returned the decision to the Court of Appeal to look at the case again based on that decision. There was a rehearing at the Court of appeal based on the Lax Kw’alaams decision and another decision was made again upholding the BC Supreme Court decision. The most recent case is the result of that very circuitous and costly process.
The Case before the BC Court of Appeal-2nd time around
The Federal Government and the intervenors: BC Wildlife Federation, BC Seafood Alliance and the Underwater Harvesters Research Society said the BC Supreme Court justice made the following 4 mistakes:
The BC Supreme Court found on the evidence that the Nuu-chah-nulth engaged in the trade of fisheries resources which included the regular exchange of fisheries resources in significant quantities to other tribes and groups. This was different from the Lax Kw’alaams decision where the court found the only evidence to a commercial fishery was with eulachon and nothing else. The court of appeal agreed on this and said this was not “a voyage of discovery armed only with very general terms of reference.”
Justice Garson said that she did not have to define trade but set out features of trade to be: exchanges of fish or shell fish for an economic purposes, exchanges of significant quantity of such goods, exchanges as a regular feature of Nuu-chah-nulth society and exchanges outside the local group or tribe. The court of appeal stated that Justice Garson did not have to go further in defining trade practices of the ancestral society.
They also agreed with the justice that the Fisheries Act was as yet an unjustified prima facie infringement of the plaintiffs rights.
The Court of Appeal determined that there would be no changes in their earlier decision based on the Lax Kw’alaams decision in that the evidence supported the findings in law. The right to sell did not include geoduck.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of the Federal Government. I am willing to bet that the federal government will spend a year talking to the Nuu-chah-nulth and then go back to court on a justification argument.
They cannot just appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada but must fulfil the conditions set out by the Appeal Court. The new Fisheries Minister will have to make sure that negotatiations are in good faith and will bear the scrutiny of the court before heading back to the Court of Appeal.