Chilliwack was one of the stops along the tour of the 2016 Wild Salmon Caravan this year.
More than 50 people rallied at the courthouse Friday to support the effort with drums and voices raised.
The caravan started at the headwaters of the Fraser River near Prince George at Mount Robson Park in early June and travelled back down to Vancouver last week, carrying a message of the importance of saving wild salmon by removing fish farms from the ocean.
The convoy of vehicles visited many communities, shared songs, art and culture, while following the salmon smolts to the ocean.
They had feasts, ceremonies, rallies and celebrations to herald the ecological and social importance of wild salmon. Communities on the caravan tour included Kamloops, Lillooet, Lytton, Hope, Chilliwack, Kwantlen First Nation (Fort Langley), Fort Rupert, Port Alberni, Vancouver, and Tsawwassen
Skwah Chief Robert Coombes told the crowd in Chilliwack that he grew up fishing but he and his sons don’t go out anymore.
“Growing up my dad fished every month of the year. I went out with him from the time I was three years old.”
But no longer, and it’s a choice.
“There’s too much fighting.”
But he praised the salmon warriors.
“Keep on fighting. We are here with you,” he said.
Katsie First Nation Chief Susan Miller said she waited across the street as the people gathered for the wild salmon rally.
She said fish is in their DNA, and they will continue to fight for salmon, and stand behind Chief Robert Gladstone.
“We are all here because this is important,” Chief Miller said of herself and her fellow band council members.
“Today we recognize that our fish are disappearing.
“It’s not just that we are not getting to fish, it’s the fact that we are not going to have fish.
The rivers are irreparably damaged. The eagles and bears will disappear. Katsie lives and breathes for fish!”
But keep in mind, it’s not just about him, said Robert Gladstone, chief of Shxwha:y Village (Skway First Nation).
He was charged for fishing during a closed time, for one salmon to be used in the First Salmon ceremony. Many at the rally showed their support for Gladstone.
“It’s about Pilalt tribe taking a stand.”
Pilalt tribe include Cheam, Shxwha:y and Skwah.
“This is about so many people. We are all heroes,” Chief Gladstone said.
“It’s a fascinating time for native people, building capacities, going forward and being resource managers. Stewards of their land once again.
“It’s a beautiful message, and it’s not just a native issue. We’re all in this together. So go the fish, so go the people.”
But where are the rest of the voices of conservation? That was the question Cheam Chief Ernie Crey threw out to the crowd that gathered at the courthouse.
Crey said they told Fisheries and Oceans it will only be a short time before First Nations start managing their own fisheries.
“We’ve made it our business to first and foremost to care for the salmon,” Crey said. “We left in their hands too long.”
The Cheam First Nation hosted the Wild Salmon Caravan travellers in their community last week, and Chief Crey thanked them for standing tall for the salmon, which are “right now struggling for their very lives.”
The fish runs get smaller every year.
“Some people are demanding more and more of less and less. Where are the voices for conservation? Where are the voices like yours?” he asked.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is is for British Columbians in the coming years to say enough is enough to Ottawa. They’ve lost the right to manage this resource.
“It is our resource and your resource,” Crey said. “They are not managing it as they should. Yes we have a promising prime minister. There is some hope now. But we can’t say because we have hope in this young PM that he can do it on his own.
“We need to stand there with him. He has a job to do on our behalf when it comes to salmon. We need to be loud and proud about it, and unrelenting in our demands to protect what remains. Because if not us, then who?
“Our community in the end is going to save the salmon and we’re going to be able to do it because of people like you, people who care about the salmon, who care about the natural world, who care about conserving things that really matter to us, and that includes salmon,”Chief Crey said.
Eddie Gardner reminded everyone of the power of the wild salmon economy.
“it’s an important industry; an economic force in B.C. and we must keep it going. We always remind people that wild salmon is also a climate regulator. When the eagles and bears and the wolves take the food out into the forest, they only eat part of it and the rest is left to nourish the forest and trees. That absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, and create the oxygen that we need to breathe. We need to honour this great connector – the wild salmon – to save the wild salmon is in the best interest of all people.”