decolonizing salmon management?

a rather odd recent presentation by DFO to First Nations reps

As folks that read this blog from time to time have probably noticed, I often note Globe & Mail articles in my post. I was drawn to one today:

Who will pay for the environmental mess we’re in?

The article starts:

Cancun’s white beaches and resort hotels provide a fitting setting for a global argument over the rich world’s responsibility for damaging the Earth’s environment and the extent of its “climate debt” to poorer nations.

Divisions between the rich and poor – so apparent in such sunny vacation spots – have fueled bitter debates that threaten to block progress at the United Nations climate summit under way on the Mayan Riviera…

I don’t think I am the only one that finds some irony in the idea of hundreds, if not thousands of people, flying across the globe to attend a conference on climate change.

However, what peaked my attention a little more from this article:

The recognition of differing levels of responsibility between developed and developing countries has been embedded for decades in international agreements that deal with the growing climate crisis.

Based on 160 years of fossil-fueled economic growth, the industrialized world has emitted an estimated 75 per cent of the man-made greenhouse gases that remain trapped in the atmosphere.

Globally, energy-related emissions have climbed to 29 billion tonnes a year from 200 million tonnes in 1850 as the developed world relied on coal-fired electricity and oil-fueled transportation to deliver unprecedented prosperity to its citizens.

I heard a news report the other day that 2010 is shaping up to be the third hottest year globally, ever recorded in history… curious that.

The article continues:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has been leading the case for the prosecution, calling not only for reparations but also a “people’s tribunal” to impose monetary and criminal sanctions on offending rich-world governments and corporations.

Last April, Mr. Morales played host to the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which issued a manifesto calling on rich countries to finance the “decolonization of the atmosphere.” The Cochabamba Accord was endorsed by activist groups throughout the developed world.

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This idea of ‘decolonization‘ is certainly not a new one; however, it seems to be surfacing more in various areas. Here in northern BC, I started hearing the term more frequently in 2007 when Northwest Community College (based in Terrace, BC) started an institution-wide initiative called “Decolonizing Education“.

Since 2007, NWCC has hosted a conference called “Challenging the Paradigm” . In the invite to this years conference the letter states:

Northwest Community College is on a transformative journey to indigenize the culture and practice of how it provides education in Northwest British Columbia. This involves learning from Aboriginal values and needs, and taking direction from the communities. We base our approach on respect, relationships and responsibility.

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Yet, this idea is not just some small regional idea… the United Nations has had dedicated Committees for Decolonization since the 1960s and even a question and answer (Q & A) sheet. The UN also had two successive “International Decades for the eradication of Colonialism” . The second of which is just about to end in less than a month (2001-2010).

Going all the way back to 1960 the UN adopted Resolution 1514: also known as the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” or simply “Declaration on Decolonization” .

It states that all people have a right to self-determination and proclaimed that colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end.

Now reading through this material, one might ask “hey salmonguy, the UN work is largely for countries working towards self determination in places like Africa and the Caribbean that were long under colonial rule… This isn’t really relevant in Canada…”

Maybe in parts of Canada where Treaties were negotiated with indigenous people… but, certainly not here in large sections of British Columbia where no Treaties exist — would be the response from salmonguy.

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Canada and British Columbia have exerted ownership and control over the lands, rivers, and coasts (out to 200 miles) of B.C. (and the critters that inhabit those) — e.g. the common belief that most every open space is “Crown Land” . Those powers are divided up in Canada through Sections 91 and 92 of Canada’s Constitution.

Yet, this is a great misconception.

British Columbia has been engaged in a Treaty Process with First Nations for about 18 years now. This, in simple terms, means that much of B.C. remains: disputed territory.

One could draw an analogy with the many disputes around the world over territory — places like the island recently shelled by North Korea… disputed territory. Or, the ongoing disputes between Israel and Palestine.. disputed territory.

Or… closer to my own heritage: the disputes over the Alsace-Lorraine area between France and Germany. Or, Ireland and England (e.g. Northern Ireland), Wales, Scotland… disputed territory.

Or right here in Canada with the discussions surrounding Quebec.

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Territorial disputes are complicated things… and in BC, the issue of Treaties with First Nations and the growing body of case law and policies on aboriginal rights and title  — is no exception.

Plus, in British Columbia, and the ongoing kangaroo court of a Treaty process, is stumbling, bumbling, and fumbling in reaching resolution of a complicated 150 years, or so, of history between colonial contactees and First Nations folks and communities.

The Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser River sockeye, commissioned a research paper on this issue: The Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Framework Underlying the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon Fishery. It’s a “simple” 66-page read…along with the 70 page read on International Law, and 15-page read on the Legislative Framework.

As explained at paragraph 145 of the Aboriginal and Treaty rights paper:

With relatively few historic treaties and even fewer concluded modern treaties, it appears that, in many cases, fisheries management decisions will require consideration of proven or unproven aboriginal rights and title as opposed to negotiated treaty rights.

Yet, as continued in the next paragraph… even if treaties were settled, this is not necessarily conclusive on the issue — paragraph 146:

Also, although treaties may be an important source of information in assessing the rights held by aboriginal peoples, they nevertheless cannot be taken as comprehensive. As articulated by the Court in Mikisew Cree, “[t]reaty making is an important stage in the long process of reconciliation, but it is only a stage” and as such, a treaty is “not the complete discharge of the duty arising from the honour of the Crown, but a rededication of it.”

What is central to the salmon issue from the colonial perspective — at least at this point in the history of BC and established case law,  is the “honour of the Crown” and “the Duty to consult.

Cohen Commission report, paragraph 159:

The “Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over an aboriginal people and the de facto control of land and resources that were formerly in the control of that people” is the foundation for the Crown‟s duty of honourable conduct. The honour of the Crown is always at stake in its dealings with aboriginal peoples and it is this honour that may give rise to a duty to consult aboriginal peoples in a process of fair dealing and reconciliation. (my emphasis)

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Reconciliation — at its core, means “to become compatible or consistent” .

At its root is ‘conciliate’: To make or attempt to make compatible.

The example sentence for ‘reconciliation’ from the Free Online Dictionary is a perfect one in this case:

reconcile my way of thinking with yours. (See Synonyms at “adapt”.)

So there you have it, there is ‘adaptation’ required on all sides of the equation; from all sides of this complexity.

There is a reconciliation required, which at its roots means that all sides must seek to find some compatibility.

Unfortunately, my experiences thus far in this work of salmon; in this long-stretching discussion about how we all look after salmon… is largely governed by dictation.

And I use that term in its multiple meanings.. for example: “to read aloud” — Or, to “prescribe with authority; impose.”

More unfortunate, is that many well-meaning folks within the institution that has been given responsibility for ensuring conservation of salmon, paragraph 156 of Cohen Commission report:

Conservation, in particular, is a responsibility that the Court has stated is shouldered by the federal government alone…

may not have a very good understanding of the history of First Nations people and communities in BC and their relationship with salmon — and most likely, have very little understanding of the atrocities, challenges, and highly-unbalanced political reality of the last 150 years (or so) of history. (Some folks may, however, most… not likely).

Add in the highly unbalanced financial and technical reality of participating meaningfully in decision-making, policy-making, and fisheries decisions regarding BC’s salmon — and I ask:

How is reconciliation achieved?

If to ‘conciliate’ suggests attempts to make thinking and cultural realities ‘compatible’…. and “reconciliation” means to: reconcile my way of thinking with yours…

How do we do that in the current reality, current climate, and current governing regime?

Yes, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, as part of the federal government, currently has the mandate to ensure “conservation” of salmon.

However, they also have a responsibility to act honorably and consult meaningfully with First Nations.

dominant DFO scientific paradigm

How is that done through the confines, paradigms, and mental models of the dominant colonial culture? How is that done through the overly-intense focus on science and statistics?

And how is that done through a court system that is composed of largely foreign laws in relation to indigenous communities?

Maybe, as Northwest Community College has indicated, this: “involves learning from Aboriginal values and needs, and taking direction from the communities. “?

And furthermore, maybe the key to the approach is respect, relationships and responsibility.

This is going to require some decolonizing of salmon management… so that the federal government’s way of thinking is reconciled with First Nation communities way of thinking… so that the scientific paradigm is reconciled with traditional and community knowledge… so that the understanding of settler cultures relationship with salmon is reconciled with indigenous cultures relationship with salmon.

Maybe even, so that our own human relationship is reconciled with salmon…

If… as so many people suggest… this is truly about the fish; about the salmon… then some serious reconciliation, understanding, and meeting with open hearts and minds — will be required.

Continued conflict, bickering, and narrow mental models will only make our relationship with salmon all the more strained — and thus our relationships with ourselves.

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