Tuesday, 9 December 2008
It is important to introduce my background so that the reader can fully understand my position and where I come from. My lineage derives from the 'Namgis and Kwagu’ł First Nations of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak’wala speaking peoples). The Kwakwaka’wakw are located on the North East of Vancouver Island as well as part of the adjacent mainland. The traditional Kwakwaka’wakw diet includes salmon, herring, eulachon, halibut, berries and to a lesser extent, goats, seals, and porpoises. The contemporary diet has recently integrated western foods to complement the collapsed fisheries that was heavily relied on and effectively stewarded for thousands of years (Heaslip, 2008).
The Kwakwaka’wakw, described as the Salmon People, have witnessed profound differences since the fish farms started appearing in their territories (Cranmer, 1998). Some of these changes include blackened clam beds, increased sea lice infestation and sea vegetation changes (Richard et al, 2005). The 'Namgis First Nation has always maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards fish farms ('Namgis First Nation). Community interviews reveal that risks to the environment, the local economy, and health and well-being as primary reasons for this opposition (Richard et al, 2005). Richard also links salmon farms to the fact that the 'Namgis have experienced decreased access to and control of resources within their territories (2005).
The Broughton Archipelago, an area this paper focuses on and which currently holds 28 open-net cage sites (BC is approving more licenses), is situated within 'Namgis territories (PFRCC, 2002; Statistic Canada, 2004). According to 'Namgis members, there are effects from the farms that are not yet being researched or its impacts fully understood and action must be taken before its too late (Heaslip, 2008). One of the concerns regarding these farm sites, sea lice and its impact on wild salmon stocks, will be explored in greater detail. It is the position of the 'Namgis First Nation that sea farms are a significant cause for among many things, increased numbers of sea lice ('Namgis First Nation).
The salmon aquaculture industry and several scientists have critiqued the available peer-reviewed evidence linking fish farms to the decline in wild stocks, which if correct could lead to the decimation or extinction of pink salmon populations. The industry objects to further regulation or any drastic actions without more in-depth studies. Although it is agreed that further research is needed to further understand this complex issue, action should be taken immediately to reduce the risks and protect wild salmon stocks.
Increasing numbers of people have come to understand that salmon farming in its current form is unsustainable and a great danger to surrounding ecosystems. It is the intent of this paper to convince the reader that despite disagreements about the extent of the impact sea lice are causing, the negative effects of sea farming practices alone are reason enough to demand change. This debate will be examined from a 'Namgis perspective and recommendations will be put forth for action within the next six months.
Sea lice are crustacean parasites that commonly live and feed on salmon and other fish species. Of the thirteen species of sea lice only three, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, Lepeophtheirus cuneifer and Caligus clemensi, have been known to attach themselves to farmed and wild salmon in BC waters (Watershed Watch Salmon Society, 2004). The sea louse eats the mucous, blood and skin of salmon and naturally appears within tolerable levels on salmon in the wild (Watershed, 2004). If infestation is high enough, salmon will die. These load limits are still under intense investigation, which is further complicated by the different responses of each salmon species. Female sea lice can lay between less than a hundred to hundreds of eggs at one time with up to six laying cycles per lifetime (Bjorn & Finstad,1999). This means that given the right conditions and an ample supply of hosts, that sea lice can multiply quite readily. Depending on location within the Broughton Archipelago, juvenile salmon sometimes have to navigate through as many as four salmon farms to get to the open ocean (Morton, 2004). This can dramatically increase the chances of infestation at a time when protective scales have not fully developed.
When salmon return to fresh water to spawn, the attached sea lice die after several weeks (Watershed, 2004); therefore, it is logical to assume that salmon farms are a main cause for sea lice infection around farms, which provide many host opportunities because of their year-round activities (Costello, 2006). Sea farm operators use a drug called Slice (emamectin benzoate), which effectively kills most lice present (Stone et al. 2000). It is not a silver bullet however and studies have shown that other crustaceans are impacted by the drug (Waddy et al, 2002; SEPA, 1999). The drug also has low solubility in water and is very likely to accumulate in marine sediments (Brooks, Mahnken & Nash, 2002).
Dwindling Wild Salmon Numbers
The article entitled Epizootics of Wild Fish Induced by Fish Farms states that there is a chance of between 9-95% mortality rate in several pink and chum populations in the Broughton Archipelago (Krkosek, Lewis, Morton et al, 2006). Under normal conditions juvenile salmon would not be infested because sea lice cannot live in water with low salinity for more than three weeks and the previous group of sea lice would have died off (Gillibrand & Willis, 2007). Juvenile salmon enter the sea in the spring without lice several months before the return of wild adult salmon, which commonly return infested within tolerable levels (Morton, 2004). The farms act as incubators for lice that remain in the areas surrounding spawning grounds. (Krkosek, Lewis Morton et al, 2006). Even a few remaining lice can produce large numbers of infectious larvae and eggs during the spring (Orr, 2007) and salmon farms provide an ideal overwintering habitat not naturally available (Morton et al, 2004). Significantly, Morton rejects the hypothesis that the sea louse L. Salmonis naturally occurs at higher levels in the Broughton Archipelago (Morton et al, 2004) and research suggests that infestations of sea lice regularly occur in juvenile wild salmonoids near farms, dramatically increasing the chances of infestation and death (Morton et al. 2004, 2005; Krkosek et al. 2005).
Furthermore, Morton was able to provide a link between the infestation levels and mortality of juvenile salmon, while providing a correlation between fallowed farm sites and a decline in copepodids (parasitic stage of louse) within 1km, which has prompted further studies (Morton & Routledge, 2005). Ultimately, Krkosek and Morton utilized the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) escapement data that suggests farms can cause infestations of sea lice that decrease capacity of coastal habitats to support wild salmon numbers and warns that it could lead to 99% pink salmon collapse within four generations (Krkosek & Morton, 2007)! This figure has come under intense scrutiny.
The BC salmon farming industry employs approximately 2800 people, is the largest agricultural exporter in BC, the fourth largest producer worldwide and contributes $800 million to the provincial economy (BC Salmon Farmers Association). It is important to note that initially the fish farm supporters did not counter the peer-reviewed scientific process with studies and evidence of their own. This evidence does not refute the linkage between sea lice and salmon farms, rather it works to uncover other possible reasons that contribute to the decline of salmon stocks near salmon farms, while working to challenge the scientific methods of published studies.
Brooks has challenged the growing anti-farm group by examining historical returns to the Broughton Archipelago and pointing out where evidence does not take all factors into consideration. His article states that following years of abundant populations typically fall to lower levels for several years (Brooks & Jones, 2008). A primary factor that was not included in Krkosek’s 2007 article was the use of emamectin benzoate (Slice) on farm populations (Brooks & Jones, 2008). Another factor is the evidence of pink salmon resistance against sea lice that has shown an effective defense that accelerates the rejection of lice from their skin once their weight reaches 0.7g, calling for further research on juveniles weighing less (Jones et al., 2007). Brooks argues that the DFO database actually shows a positive trend since 2003 and that returns are within historical variability (Brooks & Jones, 2008). Both Brooks and Harvey call for more research (Brooks & Jones, 2008; Harvey, 2008a), but Harvey later clarifies his position by stating it is not just a matter of whether or not the science is clear yet, but whether there is enough evidence to prompt action (Harvey, 2008b).
There are several factors that have been identified as possible contributors to wild salmon declines. Beamish speculates that the salinity of the ocean can impact the survival rates of sea lice because they cannot live in salinity levels below 30% (Beamish, Jones et al, 2006a; Morton, Routledge & Williams, 2005). Beamish et al call for better measurements of salinity levels in the Broughton Archipelago (2006). Jones has brought attention to the fact that there are several sources transmitting sea lice besides farmed salmon. It becomes apparent that both farmed and wild salmon may become infected by sea lice from a variety of sources such as over-wintering Coho and Chinook salmon and wild sticklebacks, but this possible transmission needs further study (Jones et al, 2006b).
Brooks challenges Krkosek and Morton’s work as they go back and forth in their debate, each side minimizing the other’s assumptions. In 2005, Brooks responded to Krkosek’s rebuttal by stating that his literature does not take into consideration the life cycle of sea lice and the ideal/adverse living conditions present during his studies. In 2008 Brooks further states that pink salmon are highly variable in the area and that Krkosek should not have excluded major pink salmon producing systems in his analysis. Brooks also questions the mathematical model Krkosek used.
Even though the research debate is still ongoing, the pro-farm group has not disproven that sea lice is reducing numbers, just that the evidence does not necessarily point to substantial losses and therefore drastic action may not be necessary. This is not in line with the precautionary principle (Lauck, Clark, Mangel & Munro,1998). If Krkosek and Morton are correct, it may be too late to effective counter this threat of extinction or drastically reduced numbers. It is clear that the adaptive management being employed by the BC Government is not effectively managing farmed nor by extension wild fishery numbers (BC Government). The provincial and especially federal governments’ tacit support of fish farms by failing to act according to precautionary principles means that for the time being, change will not be demanded from lawmakers. With this in mind, it is important to minimize the risks to the environment.
Among all of this scientific study, which is meant to divorce emotion from the debate and look exclusively at the evidence uncovered, the 'Namgis ‘non-scientific’ observations become ever more important. They are the people who are directly impacted by these events and ongoing debates. The 'Namgis have long held disdain for the atrocious management of fisheries within their territories and the apparent abandonment of the Broughton Archipelago. This has prompted the 'Namgis to fill the research and management gaps left by the DFO, while simultaneously fighting for guaranteed fisheries access and decision-making powers over their territories ('Namgis First Nation). The 'Namgis have considered the concerns of members employed by local salmon farms and believe that they will be just as useful working on closed containment farms. Although a majority disagrees with the industry’s current operations, split opinions start to occur in some communities where employment levels (economic need) start to outweigh the negative impacts of sea farms (Gerwing & McDaniels, 2006).
There are scientists that wish to debate the potential causes that may be attributable to other factors. It is also understood that the entire salmon fishing industry and its supporters have much invested in the form of employment, public relations, government remittances in the form of taxes and the brand of farmed salmon itself (BC Salmon Farmers Association). It is clear that this is a sometimes emotional issue that has polarized communities. In considering recommendations, the first question needed to be asked is: are farmed salmon capable of being sustainable in its current form? The short answer is no. There are many actions that must be taken to alleviate environmental stresses and to turn the industry into a sustainable, profitable business. It is important to understand that salmon itself is not sustainable. As a carnivorous species, salmon consume 3-3.5kg of fish meal for every 1kg of salmon that reaches market (Naylor, 2000). To give an example of the resources needed, the European salmon farming industry needs an area for feed estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 times the surface area of farms, which is equal to about 90% of the primary production of the fishing area of the North Sea (Naylor, 2000).
We must look at lower trophic level fish species that are herbivorous and require fewer resources to grow such as carp, tilapia and catfish. Countries should encourage production of fish other than shrimp and salmon that are fed diets containing little or no fishmeal (Skretting, 2008) and since there currently is a huge market for salmon that is not abating, several things must be done to minimize the current impacts. Scientists need to research alternative ways to reduce the fish meal, fish oil and heavy usage of energy inputs that are needed, possibly toward natural and safe plant proteins (Skretting, 2008), while simultaneously establishing fines that reduce escapes and increasing regulation of environmental safety measures like feed and drug usage as well as the recirculation of waste water (Naylor et al, 2000). Studies demonstrate a correlation between fallowing farm sites and a decline in numbers of copepodids on wild pink/chum juveniles within 1 km of farms and although further studies need to be done, fallowing farms along migratory routes should be a mandatory measure until proven otherwise (Morton & Routledge, 2005).
Sea lice have a negative impact on wild salmon and must be addressed immediately. Salmon are a keystone species and the reduction of wild salmon has wide implications to the surrounding ecosystems (Willson & Halupka, 1995). Until sustainable alternatives have been implemented, Slice treatments must happen weeks before March 1 to reduce sea louse numbers (Orr, 2007). It is important to move regulation away from industry self-policing and have government staff conduct increased and continual random checks without any notice to salmon farm operators. It is hoped this will maintain the highest of standards until more efficient means are implemented.
The 'Namgis want the farms to be land-based, close contaminant tanks ('Namgis First Nation; The Province, February 24, 2008), which could be publically funded to help with the transition. This has support among environmentalists and the Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture (British Columbia, 2007), but is thought of as too costly by the BC Salmon Farmers Association and industry. During this transition, biological barriers should be implemented that separates farmed salmon from the surrounding ocean, while a moratorium on any new farm licenses should be put into place. Designs should be energy efficient and process all wastes. The benefits of closed containment include an ‘eco-salmon’ marketing opportunity, substantial food savings, and control of growing conditions such as temperature, disease and water chemistry (Georgia Strait Alliance & David Suzuki Foundation, 2008). Major hurdles to overcome are the substantial start-up costs, cleaning (in a tank system), as well as ongoing energy costs and impacts (Canadian Geographic). Despite these concerns, there have been many examples of viable closed containment fish farming and with appropriate government support, the salmon farm industry will be able to transition to a more environmentally sustainable operation.
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Gordon, E. (2006a). Exceptional production of pink salmon in 2003/2004 indicates that farmed salmon and wild Pacific salmon can coexist successfully in a marine ecosystem on the pacific coast of Canada. ICES J. Mar. Sci., 63, 1326–1337.
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Brooks, K. & Jones, S. (2008). Perspectives on Pink Salmon and Sea Lice: Scientific Evidence Fails to Support the Extinction Hypothesis. Reviews in Fisheries Science, 16(4), 403–412.
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Morton, A., Routledge, R. & Williams, R. (2005, August). Temporal Patterns of Sea Louse Infestation on Wild Pacific Salmon in Relation to the Fallowing of Atlantic Salmon Farms. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 25(3), 811-821.
Naylor, R., Goldburg, R., Primavera, J., Kautsky, L., Beveridge, M., Clay, J., Folke, C., Lubchenco, J., Mooney, H. & Troell, M. (2000, June). Effect of Aquaculture on World Supplies. Nature, 405, 1017-1024.
Orr, C. (2007). Estimated Sea Louse Egg Production from Marine Harvest Canada Farmed Atlantic Salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia, 2003–2004. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 27, 187–197. DOI: 10.1577/M06-043.1.
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Stone, J., Sutherland, I., Sommerville, C., Richards, R., & Endris, R. (2000, May). The Duration of Efficacy Following Oral Treatment with Emamectin Benzoate Against Infestations of Sea Lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis (Krøyer), in Atlantic salmon Salmo salar L. Journal of Fish Diseases, 23(3), 185-192. Retrieved November 29, 2008. DOI:10.1046/j.1365-2761.2000.00233.x.
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Thursday, 28 August 2008
FORESTRY - http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080828.BCTREE28//TPStory/National
Natives gain more influence over logging
Province failed to adequately accommodate Gitanyow when issuing licences, court rules
August 28, 2008
VANCOUVER -- Natives will have significantly more clout over forestry in British Columbia after a court ruling that found the provincial government renewed licences granting the right to log in public forests in northern B.C. without meaningful consultation or adequate accommodation of aboriginal interests.
The B.C. Forestry Ministry failed to acknowledge the distinctive political features of the Gitanyow First Nation's aboriginal society when issuing the licences, Madam Justice Kathryn Neilson stated in one of her final rulings as a B.C. Supreme Court judge. (Judge Neilson was appointed to the B.C. Court of Appeal earlier this year.)
The Forestry Ministry also failed to recognize the aboriginal right to expect the forest would not disappear while disputes over their claim to ownership of the land continue, Judge Nielson stated in a 43-page ruling distributed this week.
Consultation did take place between the government and the native band, she stated. "The issue is whether that consultation process was reasonable and whether any resulting accommodation was adequate," Judge Neilson wrote. "The Crown's obligation to reasonably consult is not fulfilled simply by providing a process within which to exchange and discuss information."
The ruling is the most recent in a series of court decisions over the past decade that require the federal and provincial governments to consult with natives and accommodate their interests.
Vivian Thomas, a Forest Ministry spokeswoman, said yesterday the government was reviewing the implications of the court decision and could not make any further comments. Glen Williams of the Gitanyow First Nation was not available yesterday for comment. The judge has asked for further submissions before ruling on the consequences of her decision.
Natives in B.C. have unresolved land claims to almost the entire province. The current court ruling dealt with six 15-year licences issued in February, 2007, that granted the right to log in the Kispiox and Nass regions of the northwestern part of the province in exchange for complying with government forest-management objectives and paying stumpage fees.
Judge Neilson stated that issuing the licences was the first step in permitting the removal of a claimed resource in limited supply. The annual allowable cut in the area would be about one million cubic metres of timber, the equivalent of about one million telephone poles. The licences covered almost half of the 16,800 square kilometres of territory claimed by the Gitanyow as their traditional lands.The Gitanyow, with a population of about 700 people, have been in treaty negotiations since 1980, but the process stalled in 1996, Judge Neilson stated. "Nevertheless, there is no question that substantial logging and road building have occurred on those lands and that these activities have had a significant impact on the sustainability of timber resources and on other aspects of Gitanyow tradition and culture."
Land was clear-cut and the mature old-growth forests were replanted. But the Gitanyow were denied for many decades the use of large areas of habitat required to support plants, birds, fish and animals that they traditionally had for sustenance and for cultural purposes, the court heard. Unable to draw on the resources to maintain their culture and traditional activities, the native band suffered financial hardship, pain and shame, the Gitanyow told the court.
The Gitanyow is organized into eight matrilineal wilps (clans), each with their own territory. Each wilp has a hereditary chief who has authority over the group's land. Judge Neilson found that the government did not accommodate the concern that the wilp system be recognized in the licences. Logging timber in the traditional territory without reference to the wilp boundaries "could result in the effective destruction of individual wilps."
Judge Neilson also said that each of the companies that held forestry licences in the area in the previous 15 years had financial difficulties leading to receivership or a government bailout. As a result, some of the companies exceeded logging allowances and failed to fulfill obligations to replant the forest, she said.
She also said the government did not adequately address silviculture - issues regarding the maintenance of a healthy forest - adding that the government's position on silviculture liabilities amounted to no more than "trust us."
"The honour of the Crown and the importance of the sustainability of the resource to Gitanyow clearly required more."
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Sea of concern
Does local seafood pose a health risk for Vancouver Island’s First Nations people?
by Jessica Gillies
When Tom Child was growing up in the Kwakiutl community of T’saxis on northeastern Vancouver Island, gathering traditional foods from the ocean was as natural as the rhythm of the seasons.
It still is. But now there are concerns about the quality of the food First Nations communities are harvesting and whether the health risks posed by environmental contaminants outweigh the known benefits of a traditional seafood diet.
“All the origin stories and legends that exist for First Nations on the coast involve the natural world, so our culture itself is dependent on a healthy environment,” says Child, a graduate student in the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies.
“Our elders are worried about the rapid changes to their local environment and important food-gathering sites,” says Child. “They want to know what pollution levels are out there, and they want to understand the risks these bring to their grandchildren.”
For his master’s degree, Child is working with Dr. Peter Ross, a wildlife toxicologist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, on the first-ever major study of the health benefits and risks of the seafood diet of BC’s coastal First Nations.
The study is a partnership among five First Nations communities, the Vancouver Island Region Wildlife Management Society, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and UVic.
The study focuses on four groups of contaminants—flame retardants (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, and heavy metals. All of these chemicals bio-accumulate in the food chain and can cause developmental, reproductive, immune and nervous system problems.
The team selected four traditional food species to study—harbour seals, sockeye salmon, Dungeness crab and butter clams.
To find out how important seafood is in contemporary First Nations diets, Child organized surveys of more than 300 people in the five communities. The results show that a typical survey respondent eats as much seafood in one month as the average Canadian eats in an entire year.
“It shows you how important this food source is,” says Child. “Coastal people aren’t just eating salmon; they’re taking advantage of a whole host of traditional resources, such as barnacles, chitons, seaweed, herring roe, halibut, prawns and more.”
To determine contaminant levels, Child and the study team tested food fishery salmon, and traditional shellfish harvesting and crabbing sites in each community. To test seals, they used a non-lethal method of collecting seal pups for blubber and blood samples.
Preliminary results suggest that PCB levels are low in all the species they studied except for harbour seals, which are high up on the food chain and live longer than fish, crabs or clams. PCBs accumulate over time in the seals’ fatty tissues.
Once contaminant analysis is complete, the next step is to determine the health risks of consuming traditional foods.
In the end, it may turn out that the health and cultural benefits of eating traditional seafoods outweigh any potential harm. “We want to raise awareness,” says Child, “but we don’t want to create extra fear that will cause people to stop eating their traditional foods.”
To download the pdf version please visit:
Saturday, 19 July 2008
I have been reflecting for the past few months on my treaty stance. I believe that instead of just stating the negative side of signing a treaty in its current form, I should also provide alternatives to explore deeper. One topic that keeps coming up in my mind is economic development. Coming from a business background I can understand the concepts, but when it comes to treaty negotiations I have yet to transform these words into action in the real world. It seems to me that the number of job possibilities that are talked about in treaty discussions may be clouding our judgment. It is almost like some spontaneous event will make us economically free from government handouts - if we just get this treaty signed. I wonder if this is the case… A good question to ask is: will these jobs be around for our children? Because signing a treaty is more than what is immediately in front of us. More than a $10,000 cheque. More than lofty promises that have no plan to be achieved because, as we know, promises have been made in the past. It is about forever prospering on our own lands with our own resources. At least it should be.
I do not believe that the current Canadian-style consumer society we live in today is the answer to our long term survival as Kwakwaka'wakw. How can spending all of our hard earned resources outside of our territories, from non-Kwakwaka'wakw peoples, help us to become the wealthy nation we once were? We were respected by our neighbours because of the strength we had in unity. Our potlatch system allowed us to support one another by sharing our wealth within the Kwakwaka'wakw nation. We became rich and powerful because the great chiefs before us spent this wealth supporting their community in exchange for witnessing birthrights and inheritances. Let me say this: I don't think 'going back to the bush' is going to bring back some perfect life that we left behind. Things were very tough, but they were also very rewarding. There is a way to balance our ways with sustainable economic development. Let us take care of our environment, be leaders and stewards of our territories and instead of buying products and services from others, lets consider supporting one another by buying locally and from fellow Kwakwaka'wakw people whenever possible.
What is economic development from a Kwakwaka'wakw perspective? I do not claim to have the answers that will solve our valid concerns for the future. I do, however, want to discuss it fully and be a part of what my unborn children will live through. May that future provide prosperity as Kwakwaka'wakw people. Our choices now will directly impact the next generation and the generations to come. Let us come together and support one another.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
There are a few items up for negotiation that are disagreeable within the BC Treaty process and I believe should be opposed by our people. I will expand these topics over the upcoming weeks to elaborate my stance and how they will negatively impact us and more importantly, our future generations.
- Taxed! - Need I go further? Well I will soon enough...
- Private Property - the issues that arise out of private property.
- Becoming more western and exploitative rather than sustainable and more Kwakwaka'wakw
- Municipal style government - a look into self government
- Sell off 90%+ of our lands for a rock bottom, dirt-cheap price…and then the Canadian government can still legally infringe on what little we have left after.
- Withdraw from future legal claims despite recent successes in going the legal route (Chilcotin have regained 50% control over their lands, a landmark case that still needs in depth study).
- Put control of fishery limits forever in government hands and DFO, with their headquarters way over in Ottawa and therefore will never have a real understanding of our local needs and circumstances, both food and cultural.
- The "'Namgis claim" - did we settle here on British lands a couple hundred years ago or did they? This agreement's language treats the land as if they were giving it to us. We must focus on language putting any agreement as a transfer from us to them. It will put the issue in perspective considering we will be selling over 90%+ of our lands to the Canadian government. We own this land - the Canadian and Provincial governments would not spend $1 Billion if they thought otherwise.
- "Certainty" - meaning we will never be able to change as 'Namgis. No matter what changes in the future our rights will always be the same. We will be frozen in time as if the Kwakwaka'wakw never changed before the Europeans came. What other people on earth are forced to act a certain way to be part of a nation? Any evolution would be treated as Canadian influenced by the courts, making assimilation the ultimate goal of this process. No other nation has to go through this because it goes directly against the United Nations Convention on Human Rights. The reason Canada is making certain it remains this way through the treaty process is because it keeps us dependent on the Canadian government despite their claims of independence after signing with them.
- Debt - every year we are going $500,000 dollars further into debt. I encourage all members to look at our financial statements and ask questions on our spending.
This is not a comprehensive list as there are many things to disagree with, but I will start with the most obvious and important. Something to think about: What about those who have signed treaty already? Are they happy and does the Canadian government abide by these older treaties? According to our Kwagu'ł brothers and sisters, they have consistently failed to honour their agreement with them. Why would our agreement be any better?
The Kwakwaka’wakw are located on the North East of Vancouver Island as well as part of the adjacent mainland. The traditional Kwakwaka’wakw diet includes salmon, herring, eulachon, halibut, berries and to a lesser extent, goats, seals, and porpoises. The Kwakwaka’wakw social structure was organized into extended family units or ‘na’mima, which means “of one kind”. Each ‘na’mima had ranked positions or offices that came with many responsibilities and privileges. There were approximately four ‘na’mima to each of the seventeen tribes. The Kwakwaka’wakw had a comprehensive and stable governing process prior to the Indian Act, in which they successfully managed limited resources, settled legal matters and disputes within a constantly evolving traditional culture. Despite the focused legislative campaign against the core of their identity, the Kwakwaka’wakw continue to thrive and practice the traditional ceremonies given to them by their ancestors.
The Kwakwaka’wakw trace their origins back to their ancestral creation. The lower ranked chiefs within a ‘na’mima owe their creation to the ancestral chief. A head chief gave roles and responsibilities to the families within his ‘na’mima in which no two people were of equal rank. These positions were filled according to primogeniture, with the eldest son of the line to a particular rank assuming the title. His younger brothers stood as his potential successors, in case the heir died without a son. The brothers of chiefs were considered secondary nobility and were given respect for the possibility of being given the chief’s title. Each ‘na’mima had several sub-chiefs ranked second, third and fourth, who also received their title through their own family group primogeniture. These chiefs mobilized their family to harvest the lands given to them by the head chief. ‘Na’mima chiefs had three main administrative responsibilities which included economic organization, management of his territory and directing ceremonial obligations.
The Creation of Kwakwaka’wakw:
"The Kwakwaka’wakw creation story is that the ancestor of a ‘na’mima appeared at a specific location by coming down from the sky, out of the sea, or from underground. Generally in the form of an animal, it would take off its animal mask and become a person. The Thunderbird or his brother Kolus, the Gull, the Killer Whale (Orca), a sea monster, a grizzly bear, and a chief ghost would appear in this role. In a few cases, two such beings arrived, and both would become ancestors. There are a few ‘na’mima that do not have the traditional origin, but are said to have come as human beings from distant places. To this group belong the Si’santla’, at one place, their ancestor is called “Son of the Sun” who traveled to as far north as Bella Bella. These ancestors are called “fathers” or “grandfathers,” and the myth is called the “myth at the end of world.”[i]
Surplus from harvests were given to the chief to perform these ceremonial obligations, which were made up of potlatches and feasts. All elements of Kwakwaka’wakw life culminated in the potlatch. Spiritual, economic, judicial, social and political organization, performing arts and the major events of an individual’s life were all integral parts of the potlatch. External disputes that were beyond a chief’s singular authority were settled at potlatches. Potlatches were also a means of ensuring all members of the larger Kwakwaka’wakw society were living well under their chief.
The potlatch was a public view into the legal transactions of a ‘na’mima. The people that witnessed these transactions were paid through gifts of food and material wealth. Reasons to potlatch included naming, marriages, births, initiation into secret societies and other ceremonial transfers. By accepting the payment and witnessing these events the guests gave assent to the claims. Traditionally, the ‘na’mima could only potlatch through the office of the chief because he owned all of the wealth within his territories.
Another important reason for the giving of property during potlatches was to ensure that the “Kwakwaka’wakw noble showed himself to be a worthy vehicle for the soul of an ancestor-spirit and thereby validated both his social status and his claim on supernatural powers believed to be essential for the regeneration of the natural realm.”[ii] Due to wealth restraints, traditional potlatches tended to be limited to the head chief with the assistance of the entire ‘na’mima. The giving of gifts was reserved for the high ranking chiefs in attendance to honour them for witnessing and validating the family’s claims.
The potlatch was a “process of winning names through inheritance, marriage, and warfare, divesting them over the course of his life to his heir and, finally, having preserved all his names for another generation, dying as a commoner.”[iii] The class distinctions were hereditary, but nobility still ended their office by joining the rest of society as a commoner. It was a spiritual journey devoted to ensuring the regeneration of the physical world for the survival of his people. There existed a reciprocal dependence between noble and commoner. The commoner needed a good harvest to survive and “the noble was recognized as the literal conduit between the social and spiritual domains, birth right alone was not enough to secure rank: only individuals displaying the correct moral behavior throughout their life course could maintain ranking status.”[iv] Social status and ranking proved to be effective mechanisms within Kwakwaka’wakw society.
Social rank of the ‘na’mima and its chief played a large role in accountability and stability of Kwakwaka’wakw society. If a chief had poor governing skills members would move to another family’s ‘na’mima and contribute their labour to that group. This gave incentive to continually maintain a ‘na’mima’s social rank and favour within society. It was therefore very important to improve living conditions and to consult with council, the sub-chiefs, on management issues within the ‘na’mima. If the chief lost support of the heads of the families within his ‘na’mima, they could withhold their payments and paralyze the ‘na’mima’s governing ability. This would then threaten the rank of the chief and ‘na’mima within the larger Kwakwaka’wakw society, making the ranking system an effective means of resource management.
A loss of rank was a threat that hung over the heads of chiefs and commoners alike. A council of head chiefs would decide the loss of rank in a ‘na’mima, which occurred infrequently and would mean that one or two other ‘na’mima would increase their rank within the tribe. The social and economic organization was a means to balance the conflicts within human nature and a way to have law and order prevail. Kwakwaka’wakw traditions are “based on a philosophy of there being two opposing forces in human relations: self-interest, greed/hunger and desire, on the one hand, and social cooperation and good-will, on the other.[v] The system of governance tied together the ranking system and potlatch system to harness this self-interest and produced a peaceful, managed life for its people. A chief’s power was counterbalanced by the freedom of choice in ‘na’mima and the competitive nature of the ranking system unified the clans of a tribe to cooperate in maintaining their tribal status. This traditional structure would change drastically upon European contact.
Part of the assimilation agenda of the government officials and missionaries was to make the natives more European and the potlatch was viewed as a hindrance to these efforts. Missionary William Duncan wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”[vi] As time passed the Kwakwaka’wakw utilized western wage labour to further potlatching practices and instead of becoming more western, the potlatching increased. In 1885 the first piece of legislation would be introduced to make the potlatch illegal. The legislation read:
“Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the "Potlatch" or the Indian dance known as the "Tamanawas" is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not more than six nor less than two months in a jail or other place of confinement; and, any Indian or other person who encourages, either directly or indirectly an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, or who shall assist in the celebration of same is guilty of a like offence, and shall be liable to the same punishment.”
This was later amended to become more inclusive as the earlier prosecutions brought to court were dismissed on technicalities. The legislation was extended to include guests who participated in the ceremony were also subject to up to six months in jail. The Kwakwaka’wakw were too numerous and the agency too large for effective enforcement. Duncan Campbell Scott convinced Parliament to change the offense from criminal to summary, which meant ‘the agents, as justice of the peace, could try a case, convict, and sentence.”[vii] This provided agents enough power to enforce the potlatch law.
Up until 1919 the Kwakwaka’wakw openly and defiantly practiced the potlatch. Between 1919 and 1927 there was an increase in prosecutions. A famous example is Dan Cranmer’s potlatch which sent 26 people to prison and propelled the confiscation of sacred potlatch artifacts that saw over four hundred items taken. The renewed prosecutions forced the potlatch underground. In 1927, when Jimmy Sewid married Flora Alfred his grandfather gave a potlatch, but instead of gathering in a bighouse “he just went around to the houses and gave money and other things to the people to honor” Jimmy, while his mother gave the ladies of Alert Bay various small gifts at her home.[viii] Some families would go to inaccessible winter villages to do their potlatching. Another method was called the “disjointed potlatch,” which split the potlatch ceremony in two. One part was just the dancing and at a later date the other allowed for the distribution of gifts, usually around Christmas time. This made it difficult for the Indian agents to prove the potlatch law had been broken.
Agnes Alfred, a Qwiqwasutinuxw noblewoman upon learning that her husband, Moses Alfred, had been picked up by the police for questioning responded in the following way:
“I just snatched my shawl and ran out. They had brought him to Indian Agent Halliday’s office. I did not bother to knock. I just walked into Halliday’s office and there stood Moses, at the front. They were questioning him. ‘What are you doing here?’ I said. “We are accused by Ganao. She said you are responsible for all the arrests,” I said. I grabbed him and dragged him out. They said it really shocked Dave Shaughnessy [a police officer]. He was standing by the door when I dragged Moses out. He did not try to stop me. I brought Moses home. I literally dragged him out when they were questioning him at the Indian Agent’s office.”[ix]
This was a classic case of resistance in the face of police force with little regard for the possible consequences. It also shows the resolve of Kwakwaka’wakw women, countering the passive nature the Indian Agents portrayed them to hold.
The dramatic population losses made the Kwakwaka’wakw increasingly vulnerable to outside influences. Increased pressure came “when the sudden economic power of commoners required a new distribution of ritual authority, when missionaries were actively pursuing converts, and when capitalism was dislocating villages and threatening to destroy traditional community ties.”[x] Kwakwaka’wakw population dropped by 75% between 1830-1880.[xi] This threatened the very survival of the Kwakwaka’wakw as a people. With more vacancies in the potlatch system and with the increased wealth from the wage economy, competition for prestige increased potlatches both in number and size.
Indian agents began pressuring Parliament again to further amend the potlatch law, but soon after this amendment was introduced in the House of Commons it had to be withdrawn because it came under heavy opposition from all sectors of society. Enforcement as a policy was effectively stopped, but much damage had been done. Even with “the end of enforcement, the potlatch declined, victim to alterations of the structure of the fishing industry, to the Depression, to the Anglican persuasion and Pentecostal evangelization, and to the lack of interest among the young people.”[xii] The Kwakwaka’wakw were faced with a tough choice: join Canadian society and forget about their history or rebuild and work to save the precious knowledge that remained with the few elders still alive in the communities.
The Potlatch law split families, expropriated sacred cultural possessions, criminalized traditional leaders and undermined Kwakwaka’wakw self-governance. Add to this the residential schools and its abuse or ‘civilizing’ as it claimed for so long. These institutions were made to make the Indian in the white man’s own image. No Kwak’wala could be spoken and children were alienated from family which heavily impacted the ability of traditional transmission of potlatch knowledge to the next generation.
The steady commoditization of art forms through their sale to art collectors has changed the way of the pre-colonial religious order drastically. The art was viewed by the ancestors as spiritual property that “symbolized the essential consanguinity of all living beings beneath the mask of their particular species.”[xiii] To sell a mask is to sell the soul that it embodies, a soul that comes alive during potlatch ceremonies.
Without the respect of the spiritual connection with the natural world and the secularization of every day Kwakwaka’wakw life the chief’s role has changed from the “explicit demonstration of the spiritual and economic strength of the entire ‘na’mima” to being based on the “noble’s personal productive ability [which] was now on display, and commodity-capitalism was now the means of achieving social success.”[xiv] The means of securing wealth for distribution went from “a religious covenant with nature to the capitalist free market, an evolution with profound cosmological impact.”[xv] It was a response to the changing times and the evolution of the potlatch during the ban was a way of ensuring the survival of the Kwakwaka’wakw way of life.
The potlatch law had taken its toll and the political will for the repeal of the potlatch was “overshadowed by questions about land, enfranchisement, education, taxation, welfare, fisheries and trapping.”[xvi] Regardless, In 1951 the law was dropped from the Indian Act and it was once again legal to potlatch.
Soon after the potlatch Law was dropped from the Indian Act, Mungo Martin held a potlatch in Victoria in his newly built bighouse named Wawaditla. The Kwakwaka’wakw have since openly held potlatches to reaffirm their commitment to their ancestors and also to pass on positions to the next generation. The frequency of potlatches has also increased as more families are reclaiming their birthright and returning to the old ways.
The bighouse is a spiritual place that was built on ‘Namgis territory for the benefit of all Kwakwaka’wakw. The ancestors are calling their ‘na’mima to remember their place in this world. The increasing reincarnation of our ancestor spirits has brought higher participation rates among our youth and our future looks secure.
The potlatch is a celebration of the strength of my people in their identity, but we must realize the work that needs to be done in regaining a healthy balance of traditional concepts and the need for the evolution of outdated or no long applicable practices. There are many values entrenched into the traditional system of Kwakwaka’wakw governance that need to be relearned in many cases and reevaluated in others. Without interruption or external political interference, the Kwakwaka'wakw government would still be in existence today. Kwakwaka’wakw spiritual obligations to the land need to be remembered to ensure the protection of ‘na’mima territories and all of its inhabitants. Much has changed since contact, but it is important to remember our old ways now that the legislative attacks have abated. Although set back a generation because of the ban and other assimilation attempts like the residential school and Christian missionary pressures, the Kwakwaka’wakw are slowly finding their way home. The ultimate price has been paid through epidemic disease and ‘gun boat diplomacy,’ but potlatch is here to stay.
[i] U’Mista Cultural Centre,
[ii] Joseph Masco, “It is a Strict Law that Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922”, University of California, San Diego.
[iii] Boas, Contributions to the Ethnology of the Kwakiutl, Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, vol. 3, New York: Columbia University Press, 1925: 229-30;
Goldman, The Mouth of Heaven: an Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought, 1975, 58-59.
[iv] Joseph Masco, “It is a Strict Law that Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922, 48.
[v] Stanley Walens, “Review of the Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman,” American Anthropologist, 1981, 98.
[vi] Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1977, 207.
[vii] Aldona Jonaitis, Chiefly Feasts: the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1991, 159.
[viii] James Spradley, Guests Never Leave Hungry, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969, 71.
[ix] Martine Reid and Daisy Sewid-Smith, Paddling to Where I Stand, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2004, 205-6.
[x] Chiefly Feasts, 65.
[xi] Duff Wilson, The Indian History of British Columbia, 38-40; Sessional Papers, 1873-1880.
[xii] Chiefly Feasts, 165.
[xiii] Chiefly Feasts, 67.
[xiv] Chiefly Feasts, 70.
[xv] Chiefly Feasts, 70.
[xvi] Chiefly Feasts, 166.
Boas, Contributions to the Ethnology of the Kwakiutl, Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, vol. 3, New York: Columbia University Press, 1925, 229-30.
Fisher, Robin. Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1977, 207.
Goldman, Irving. The Mouth of Heaven: an Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought, New York: Joh Wiley and Sons, 1975, 58-59.
Jonaitis, Aldona. Chiefly Feasts: the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991, 159.
Masco, Joseph. “It is a Strict Law that Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922, San Diego: University of California.
Reid, Martine and Daisy Sewid-Smith. Paddling to Where I Stand, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004, 205-6.
Spradley, James. Guests Never Leave Hungry, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969, 71.
Umista Cultural Society. Creation myth of Kwakwaka’wakw
Walens, Stanley “Review of the Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman,” American Anthropologist, 1981, 98.
Wilson, Duff. The Indian History of British Columbia, 38-40; Sessional Papers, 1873-1880.
Monday, 14 January 2008
Everything the Creator gave to us in the beginning is ours. We need to start asserting ourselves as a people, as a nation. But through this treaty process instead of taking ownership and taking control of our lives as a people, we are bargaining our rights away. Its like we have been given scraps from the 'masters' table for our whole life and suddenly we hear a knock on the door and we are told that the food, the table and the whole place actually belongs to us. I use 'master' simply because as a community we have come to think that we are dependent on the government and cannot get out from underneath it.
What would you do when you found this out? Probably kick them out, a totally justifiable action considering! But no, we are an incredibly generous people. We don’t want to kick them out because they are our neighbours and the Settlers that live among us deserve respect, just as we demand respect for ourselves. This is despite everything we have gone through, all of the trauma, residential school abuse and continued racism. The hard thing for me to accept is that instead of giving us the control over our lives back, this 'master' wants us to borrow millions of dollars to sit down at the table and negotiate the kind of rights we can have on our own land! The Canadian and BC governments are saying that instead of just the scraps from our own table, and from our land, they are throwing in a shiny apple, or a whole lot of shiny promises. Then they say we are supposed to be reasonable and let them continue to control our house, our food and our lives. That is the treaty negotiation as I see it.
We must assert ourselves to have real change. Most people are scared of this idea because we as a people have come to believe all of the 'masters'' lies: that they own the land, resources and the right to control of our food. That it is up to them if we can fish or hunt for the food we need for our very survival. It is not too late though, we can remember what our ancestors fought against when they decided against treaty in the old days. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.
Besides the ridiculousness of the treaty process itself, look at the record of Canada and BC in honouring their past and still valid treaties with other First Nations. I marched on the BC Legislature twice this year in support of the Kwakiutl, protesting infringements on the Douglas Treaties they signed in the 1850's. The rights of the Coast Salish in Victoria are constantly being threatened as well. Does this really sound good to anyone?