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Open our aboriginal fisheries, says Cheam chief in letter to DFO

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DFO's 2014 management and allocation decisions have caused 'serious violations' of the Cheam First Nation's aboriginal rights and title, Chief Sidney Douglas wrote in a letter.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

A record run of Fraser sockeye is no time to be keeping Cheam fishing boats off the river.

That's the gist of a letter, obtained by the Progress, dated Aug. 25 from Cheam First Nation Chief Sidney Douglas, addressed to federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

DFO's 2014 management and allocation decisions have caused "serious violations" of the Cheam's aboriginal rights and title, Chief Douglas argues in the correspondence.

"There's a lot of fish out there," said Douglas.

Recent court cases cementing aboriginal rights and title at the Supreme Court of Canada level are the backdrop of the official request from the band that "aboriginal fisheries be opened immediately."

At the time of the letter, there were commercial boats and recreational fisheries on the Fraser, but not aboriginal fishers, as the food, social and ceremonial fishing quota had been filled, despite peak returns.

Chief Douglas said he was being pressured, like other Sto:lo leaders right now, by their community members who are frustrated sitting idle on shore, watching everyone else be allowed to fish.

"Our culture and the lives of our people centre on fishing during this time of year, our people come together and gather at the river to fish and exercise their rights.

"It is unacceptable in a year of record returns of Fraser River Sockeye salmon, to prohibit our people from fishing."

The allocations can't meet the needs of the Cheam, and could lead to hardships this winter.

"Some of the numbers being used for these allocations were put into place in the early 1990s," said Chief Douglas. "Our population is growing. Our families are growing but the allocation of salmon is not growing."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the Tsilhqot'in "only reinforced the need for DFO to take immediate action," to recognize Cheam rights and title, he wrote in the letter.

The Cheam fishery, "the most closely monitored fishery in the world, where every single fish is counted" is in sharp contrast with the fact that no real-time data exists for the commercial and recreational fisheries.

"So we're monitored to death, whereas the other fisheries don't keep as stringent a count."

He did not want his members to be penalized for participating in economic opportunity fisheries by diminished FSC allotment.

"We seem to be at the bottom of the totem pole, rather than second in priority as we should be," he said.

However at the court level there is every expectation that the trend toward recognizing title will continue.

"As an immediate action we demand that our aboriginal fishery be immediately opened and communal fishing licences be issued for our indigenous communities, so our people can fish and benefit in this year of peak returns. If DFO does not take the necessary actions, we will directly exercise our aboriginal title and rights."

A DFO media official said the department could not comment on the letter, and that Minister Shea would be responding to the letter.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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