In response to the earlier discussion about the government’s fiduciary responsibility, Chief Tom Sampson, Chemainus First Nation, shared the indigenous words for “teachings,” “laws and protocols,” “responsibility” and “conduct.”
There is no one simple word for these concepts, he explained.
He also pointed out that the government of Canada is the only country in the world that has not recognized indigenous rights. “The cruelest countries in the world have recognized indigenous rights,” he said. “But not Canada.”
Nolan Charles, Musqueam, urged the representatives from Canada’s government to take these issues to a higher level, to take the concerns expressed at the Coast Salish Gathering up the food chain, and engage the greater community.
Chief Lydia Hwitsum, Cowichan Tribes, said that the Coast Salish Gathering is a path toward creating the space needed to get this work done.
First nations haven’t had a court decision (like the Boldt decision in Washington) that compels Canada to share the management responsibility. After a 1997 Supreme Court decision that said governments must consult with first nations, it took 10 years for the court to clarify that there must also be an output of accommodation.
Terry Williams, Tulalip Tribes, said that it’s been a struggle for tribes in the United States and Canada to get a seat at the table to speak about their 10,000 years of experience.
Now, the U.S. government comes to the tribes to ask why watersheds aren’t producing fish.
“Our rivers are out of sync with the fish,” he said. “The fish over 10 000 years have adapted to the river’s cycle, but now it’s broken.”
Governments don’t recognize the manmade cause; forestry, agriculture, urban development, glacial melt and changes in hydrology have caused the rivers to run differently.
“The United States doesn’t know what they’ve lost,” he said. “They don’t know what they’ve done to themselves.”
Chief Rick Thomas, Lyackson First Nation, expressed concern about wastewater management and the condition of the Salish Sea.
Randy Kinley, Lummi Nation, advised the tribal participants not to have expectations that are too high.
“People can only do so much,” he said. “I hope we as a tribal people can sit down and prioritize and use the tools that are permitted to us by law. That is the only way the bureacratic process works in the United States.”
The tribes in western Washington haven’t lost a court case, he said. “We can beat them at the game, but we have to be together.”
Because of the government’s trust responsibility to the tribes, the tribes are in unique position to ask for more.
“We’ll be the bad guys,” he said. “Use us, all we’re looking at is how we can protect it for the next generation.”
Leah George-Wilson, Tsleil Waututh Nation, pointed out that in the United States, each tribe is a sovereign nation, but in British Columbia, only a few have treaty rights.
“More than half us are not within the treaty process,” she said. “If we’re waiting for the treaty process to fix things, we’ll be waiting a long time.”
At this point, fishing rights aren’t even on the table. “We need to find a way to make that space to help create that change, to make that shift,” she said. “The focus is not about, what it is that those Indians want. It’s about what’s right. That collective ability to create that space, to make that change.”