Bob Chamberlin: Reconciliation can benefit everyone

Opinion: Addressing the crisis faced by B.C. wild salmon is an example. The same salmon that are the backbone of rich First Nations cultures are an economic powerhouse for B.C.

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Canada’s Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a sign of this country’s growing awareness of the targeted injustice to Indigenous peoples rooted in Canada’s colonial history.

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Canada’s Constitution, Supreme Court rulings and reports such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls to Action chart a political, legal and moral path forward for federal and provincial governments to follow in their ongoing commitment to reconciliation.

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I believe we all must consider the key objective of colonialism, which was to assimilate First Nations peoples out of existence. Culture, traditions and language, which were all intertwined with identity with traditional territories, were all targeted.

Fishing rights were stripped away and fishing methods prohibited, threatening the food sovereignty and security of First Nations throughout B.C.

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Governments seeking to redress these harms need to focus on restoring, wherever possible, what was taken away. Addressing the crisis faced by B.C. wild salmon, which are in very serious and sharp decline, is a unique opportunity to do so for the benefit of all.

B.C. wild salmon are the cultural foundation of approximately 90 per cent of B.C. First Nations, comprising almost one-third of all First Nations in Canada. Their plummeting abundance represents a food security issue for all of those nations. Their rights to salmon have a constitutional, legal foundation. And those salmon are the backbone of rich and diverse cultures and traditions.

These same salmon are a basis of an economic powerhouse in the province and contribute untold environmental benefits throughout inland watersheds as well as to coastal B.C.

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The current federal government’s commitment to transition away from open-net-pen Atlantic salmon farms in B.C.’s waters is key to ending this industry’s significant impacts on wild salmon and to enabling stocks to rebuild. Establishing a predictable, long-term funding source to rehabilitate salmon habitat is also essential.

It will require decades of work in multiple watersheds to properly restore the habitat lost to forest practices, industrial development and the growth of communities, and it’s going to require the co-operation and co-ordination of multiple levels of government and civil society to achieve. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been committed, but this work is going to require a fund of multiple billions.

Such expenditure, properly supervised, could achieve province-wide reconciliation while providing economic and environmental benefits that are critically needed.

Reconciliation need not be scary. It’s an opportunity to envision a path where everyone and everything can benefit.

Bob Chamberlin is chairman of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance. He previously served 14 years as elected chief councillor for Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, and nine years as vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

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