A huge issue currently affecting the Tsimshian people is the matter of fishing and fisheries. The Canadian federal government has closed discussions on Tsimshian fishing matters until a royal commission into the Fraser River fishery is completed. The fishing issue if part of a lands claim treaty that's been more than a decade in the making.
The government refusal to discuss the fishing titles is a huge complication for the Tsimshian people. Fishing is an essential component of Tsimshian life, society, celebrations and culture. The governments unwillingness to review the matter is a passive aggressive act. The Tsimshian people require ceremonial, food and commercial entitlements to carry on with their traditional way of life. Numerous other First Nations groups in British Columbia- particularly in the Fraser Valley- have received allocations on fish and have the right to create laws regarding fish in their territories. The Tsimshian have received no such luck with the federal government. Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea states that “The Government of Canada is deferring the negotiation of fisheries components at treaty tables in British Columbia that involve salmon, pending the findings and recommendations of the Commision of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.”
While I understand that the motive of the commision into the river is to determine the basis of the treaty I also believe that the commision could take years. Shea continues with: “The findings ... may have implications for management of other Pacific salmon fisheries, and it is therefore prudent to defer negotiations on the fisheries components of treaties in British Columbia." Salmon runs have been affected in the recent years by pollution and industry and human activity contribute to the depletion of salmon in the Fraser River. But the Tsimshian people have been relying on the salmon in this region for thousands of years. They have managed and used this resource consistently throughout their history without ever exploiting it. Modern Canadian industry and corporations have managed to deplete the finite salmon resource in a decade while the Tsimshian have managed to conserve it over the course of centuries. This leaves little question in my mind about who should get primary control of the salmon resources in this region.
We must also remember that salmon is an intrinsic part of Tsimshian life and culture. It is important to them to an extent we don't understand. Their relationship with the salmon and the river is part of the metaphysical connection that the government needs to respect.
The Tsimshian clans have been trying to take matters into their own hands. They demand a presence during the committee meetings and they intend for their voice to be heard. Currently the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas clans are the most advanced of the Tsimshian First Nations in their proceedings with the federal and provincial governments.
1. The government should either put the commission on the Fraser River at the top provincial priority or they should give the Tsimshian people an equal authoroty in the proceedings
2. The government could reduce the territorial space that is involved in the commission by alloting half of it for Tsimshian use until further inquiry.
3. The government should give the Tsimshian people predominant control of the river in their region. They have after all kept the salmon supply stable for thousands of years and they have a mutual relationship to their land. We need to put the Tsimshian needs and knowledge before corporate needs and knowledge. Dozens of other First Nations groups have primary control of their rivers and they have the right to fish an allocated number of salmon annually with no government interference. The Tsimshian people deserve this same level of self governance.