Snuneymuxw First Nation is embarking on a strategy to remedy what it calls the wrongs done to the Nanaimo Harbour and Nanaimo River Estuary, both historic fishing and cultural grounds of the band, says Chief Douglas White III.
White said the strategy will involve a combination of legal actions, including a possible lawsuit, to implement Snuneymuxw’s Aboriginal Title and Fisheries recognized in the Douglas Treaty of 1854, which granted First Nations on Vancouver Island the liberty to hunt over unoccupied lands and the right to “carry on their fisheries as formerly” in exchange for surrendered lands. The treaty was reinforced in the 1960s when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Snuneymuxw band member Clifford White, who was charged with hunting deer out of season on traditional territory.
Historically, the Nanaimo Estuary and Nanaimo Harbour were both important sources of food for Snuneymuxw people, but because of industrialization have become too polluted to fish.
White said, based on case law, the Douglas Treaty is still valid but is being violated by the federal and provincial governments and the Nanaimo Port Authority.
“The estuary is the heart of what our Treaty of 1854 recognizes and protects. For a number of years Snuneymuxw has made it clear that we would no longer tolerate the denial of our title to the estuary, including our fisheries,” said White in a release. “The Crown and port authority have all made it clear that they believe nothing compels them to find an honourable path together and that they intend to stay firmly on the pathway of denial of Snuneymuxw rights and destruction of Snuneymuxw fisheries and environment.”
The strategy will also include further environmental studies and initiatives, and the adoption and implementation of a Nanaimo Harbour and Estuary Stewardship Plan.
A recent proposal by the Nanaimo Port Authority and the Pacific Northwest Marina Group to establish a 30-year lease agreement for the Nanaimo Boat basin has also drawn criticism from Snuneymuxw, which claims both parties failed to provide adequate public notice; failed to disclosed terms of the lease; failed to recognize SFN’s legal rights to the harbour; and failed to follow through on a joint review on the proposal despite a commitment to SFN.
Along with boat basin concerns, Snuneymuxw also raised environmental concerns over the new cruise ship terminal, and have deemed ongoing log-boom operations “one of the most destructive and ongoing wrongs” in the Nanaimo Harbour and estuary.
White has complained previously that forest companies, governments and other organizations other than Snuneymuxw have profited from the estuary and harbour while destroying the marine habitat generations of band members have relied on.
Representatives from the Nanaimo Port Authority said they could not provide comment prior to the Bulletin’s deadline as the port had not been sent a copy of White’s release.
The release stated the first focus of Snuneymuxw’s strategy will be on the Nanaimo Port Authority and its current and proposed activities that impact the estuary.