August 11th, 2011
The British Columbia Supreme Court on May 18th upheld a lower court decision that the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations have the aboriginal right to fish any species of fish within their traditional territories. They also have the right to sell the fish they catch within their own commercial fishery structure.
The decision is a vbig ictory for the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. Some people claim this case represents a win for aboriginal peoples in Canada that is the equivalent of the 1974 Boldt Decision. a federal case that allowed American Indian tribes in Washington state up to 50% of the harvestable salmon runs.
Seventeen witnesses gave evidence on the history and cultural knowledge of their communities. In their submissions, they told of their historic connection to fisheries, and their extensive trading of fish with European settlers at contact, as well as with other tribes in the areas of their traditional territory. Historic journals and the oral history of the tribes’ elders and experts formed the basis of the evidence presented to the court.
The court determined that the Aboriginal fishing rights where constitutionally protected and that Canada must address changing its approach to aboriginal fisheries. From the date of the Court of Appeal decision, the government and the Nuu-chah-nulth have one year to redesign a fishery that recognizes their rights to fish and sell fish commercially.