(From left to right) Cheam chief Ernie Crey, Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Terry Beech and president of the BC Federation of Drift Fishers Rod Clapton pose after Beech presented the 2017 National Recreational Fisheries Award to the two Fraser River Peacemakers co-founders.

Peacemakers receive federal award for promoting harmony on Fraser River

There is only one group working to promote harmony on Salish waters, and on Wednesday morning that organization was recognized after eight years of dedication to the Fraser River and the people who fish it.

The Fraser River Peacemakers received an award from the federal government at the Fraser River Lodge for its contribution to the ‘conservation, restoration and enhancement of Canada’s recreational fisheries and their habitat.’

The group’s founding members, Cheam chief Ernie Crey and Rod Clapton, also the president of the BC Federation of Drift Fishers, accepted the 2017 National Recreational Fisheries Award from Terry Beach, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

In 2009, then-Sts’ailes chief Willie Charlie was shot in the face with a pellet gun and his boat rammed during an altercation with recreational anglers. The incident became one of the catalysts for the creation of the Fraser River Peacemakers and its initiative for conflict resolution, collaboration and education on the river.

READ: Peacemaking on the Fraser River earns volunteer group a national award

As the only organization in the Salish sea region dedicated to promoting peaceful co-existence between First Nations fishers and sport anglers, the group answered a specific, and much-needed call to – as its website states – promote ‘harmony on the Fraser.’ The Peacemakers’ Conflict Resolution Committee is composed of representatives from major sport fishing organizations and First Nations in the region, as well as the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance.

“Fundamentally, where I was concerned, was the relationship between the Stó:lō people and our brothers and sisters in the recreational fisheries,” said chief Crey in his speech. “My goal, really remains, how can we improve our working relationship with one another? How can we get along better on the river? What is it that we need to do? What are the old resentments that we need to address and see if we can’t resolve.

We took a long hard look at our relationship and we decided that things needed to be done differently.”

Cheam chief Ernie Crey gives a speech at the award presentation Wednesday morning while Fraser River Peacemakers co-founder Rod Claption looks on. “We took a long hard look at our relationship and we decided that things needed to be done differently,” Crey said of the rising tensions between First Nations and recreational fishers that led to the creation of the Peacemakers organization. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

Clapton echoed Crey’s sentiment, recalling the volatility of on-river relations at the time.

“Fortunately, the individuals from both First Nations and the [recreational fishing] community got together and helped to diffuse potential violence in the river [because] violence was a real possibility,” he said.

“I think Ernie would agree that our efforts have diffused many potential conflicts over the years…[there’s] much more work to be done but we do believe that we have made a difference on the Fraser River.”

“We are proud of the longevity of the Peacemakers and the unique role it plays in North America’s fisheries relations,” said Clapton, adding that the group’s services have been offered in other areas of B.C. where relations are strained.

Beech awarded the co-founders with medals and thanked them for their work.

“Over the past eight years these volunteers from Indigenous and recreational fishing organizations have cultivated an atmosphere of trust and respect between fishing communities along the Fraser River,” he said. “By helping to successfully resolve disputes and educate users about river safety, they have promoted peaceful co-existence to achieve their goal for everyone to share BC’s natural resources in a peaceful and sustainable manner.”

With time, conflict resolution efforts turned to conflict avoidance and peace keeping. Relationships with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and RCMP were an important park of the organization’s work. In a media release the Fraser River Peacemakers state the award is a “clear recognition of how many seemingly opposing groups can work together respectfully to arrive at common goals when it comes to preserving a safe respectful fishery for our respective future generations.”

With files from Jennifer Feinberg.

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