It’s like night and day.
Years after Sto:lo fishing nets were accused of being “walls of death” in the Fraser River, and violent run-ins were more commonplace with federal fishery officers, a fragile peace has been restored on the mighty river.
Cheam First Nation hosted its annual Building Relationships BBQ on Cheam Beach Wednesday, inviting everyone to enjoy a barbecued salmon lunch and some riverside fellowship.
There were representatives from RCMP and DFO in attendance, as well as general members of the public, sport fishers and more.
“The whole rapport between the sport fishing community and First Nations is much better than it was two or three years ago,” said Rod Clapton of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.
He credits the hard work put in by members of a “conflict resolution group” set up specifically to diffuse tensions on the Fraser.
“The difference is we talk,” said Clapton. “The animosity is not there anymore. We’ve learned to respect each other.”
Ed George, president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation agreed.
“The big difference is that we’ve been talking one-on-one,” he said.
There’s no one running interference in the middle, such as DFO or the media.
“We don’t go airing our dirty laundry in public. If we have a problem we talk to the source directly,” said George.
Local resident Verna Pigou praised the event for bringing together the various groups in a relaxing atmosphere.
“It’s wonderful to be building bridges in this way,” she said. “Everyone gets to see we’re just people, and we all have the same dreams and goals.”
Retiree George Thiessen of Chilliwack said it was his second time at the Cheam barbecue.
“I just met the Cheam chief here, Lincoln Douglas,” he says. “He’s a professional chuck wagon racer. I never met one before.”
He and his wife, Amy, enjoy community events and meeting new people, Thiessen added.
“It kind of gives you a different perspective.”
Barbecue organizer June Quipp said the annual event was created about five years ago, as a way to break down the barriers and change perceptions. And it’s working, she said.
“We had a long history of conflict with the DFO, but we’re trying to change that.”
They open up their fishing beach area to the public to allow them to watch the aboriginal fishing boats in the river, and enjoy a free lunch.
“We’re here all afternoon, so people will be coming and going,” she said.