Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question at the town hall Feb. 2 at the Vancouver Island University gym. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

First Nations fishing rights questions remain after town hall with Trudeau

Ahousaht Chief says Prime Minister was respectful, but vague

Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie attended Justin Trudeau’s town hall meeting in Nanaimo last week and was one of the hand-raised attendees to be called on by the Prime Minister during the Feb. 2 event.

Louie asked Trudeau about the status of the T’aaq-wiihak Court Case that, he said, has been on the federal docket for “eight to nine years.”

The case involves five Nuu chah nulth Nations – Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinehkint, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht – fighting for their right to fish and sell the fish they catch.

“There’s still far too many limitations to what they can and cannot do Mr. Prime Minister and I would like to know when your cabinet will make a decision,” Louie said.

Trudeau said he has had “many discussions” with his minister of justice Jody Wilson-Raybould and minister of fisheries Dominic LeBlanc to carve out a way to move forward in a way that is “respectful of science and evidence, is respectful of traditional knowledge, traditional practices [and] traditional territory.”

He acknowledged the issue has taken too long to resolve.

“Thank you for your leadership and also thank you for the patience. I know these are issues that have gone on far too long. You mention eight to nine years, but really these are issues that go back decades and even generations and it is time we move forward on them,” he said.

“There are no easy answers on this. This is something that we have to work through together, but it is something that we will, I pledge to you, sit down, work with you, listen to your concerns and figure out what is the right path forward for your community and for everyone … There are folks who are impatient. I’m impatient, you’re impatient. We know we need to get this done. We also know we need to get it right and that’s exactly what we will do.”

RELATED: Pipeline opponents vocal at Justin Trudeau town hall in Nanaimo

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Town hall tone unfortunate

Louie told the Westerly News last week that he was pleased to have attended the town hall and that he felt Trudeau had respected his question, but added the Prime Minister’s response did not provide much clarity.

He said there is confusion around how the meetings Trudeau pledged to have would be set up.

“What does that look like? And who is we? Does that mean him or does that mean the fisheries minister?” he asked. “Does that mean Minister LeBlanc is going to come to British Columbia and sit down and talk with our T’aaq-wiihak negotiators and team? And, if that’s what it means, when will that happen?”

He said he was unable to talk with Trudeau after the town hall and hasn’t heard from the PM’s office since the event, but the five nations are investigating their next steps.

“The Nuu chah nulth Nations on the West Coast want to be able to go fishing. This is about title and rights. We want to be able to go fishing and make a decent living fishing,” he said. “What I hear from the fisherman on the negative side is that there’s a lot of restrictions.”

He cited boat size, fishing location and prohibited gear as examples of restrictions frustrating fishers.

“There needs to be some clarity. What is this decision going to mean for Ahousaht and the other nations?” he asked. “Does it mean there’s going to be more open fishing around the coast? Will the season be a little longer? Will they be able to go further out into the fishing grounds? There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

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