A rally on the steps of the Chilliwack courthouse set for May 10 will underscore the importance of the First Salmon Ceremony to Sto:lo communities of the Pilalt tribe.
The local Sto:lo chief was charged last March with one count of contravening the Fisheries Act by fishing illegally for one salmon, during a closed time.
“We take a charge like that very seriously,” said Ernie Crey, chief of Cheam First Nation, one of the groups that make up the Pilalt tribe, along with Shxwha:y Village , Kwakwaapilt and Skwah First Nations.
“It’s a clear infringement on our right to a fishery on the part of the Government of Canada.
“We have a constitutionally protected right to fish, and this one is going down very hard right now because the First Salmon ceremony is so central to our lives and to the culture of our community.”
He likened the illegal fishing ticket to someone from another faith community being charged for taking communion.
“How would people feel if they were charged for accepting the holy sacrament?”
They applied for a fishery licence from DFO last spring to take that ceremonial fish, but were denied.
“We decided to proceed with catching one anyway,” said Crey.
Now they’re holding “a peaceful and respectful rally” next week to underline the unfairness of the situation.
“We’ve encouraged people to bring their drums and wear regalia,” he said.
They’ve also retained legal counsel to defend Chief Gladstone.
“Of the fishermen out there that day, he was the only one charged,” Crey added. “Our right to catch fish for ceremonial purposes was not respected.”
They’re putting Fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo on notice over this one, and notified officials about the rally for Chief Gladstone.
“We want him to instruct his staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada to show respect for our sacred ceremonial fisheries, and not to frustrate our efforts in this regard.”