Heiltsuk Demand Recognition of Commercial Fishing Rights

First Nations Group Says Supreme Court Ruling Isn't Being Upheld

BELLA BELLA, BC, Nov. 9 /CNW/ - In the aftermath of the Nuu-chah-nulth case affirming their aboriginal right to harvest and sell fish for commercial purposes, the Heiltsuk First Nation tribe wish to congratulate the Nuu-chah-nulth for their victory. At the same time, they are also ringing a resounding warning bell.

The Heiltsuk are located on B.C.'s Central Coast, and have experienced continued frustration by the failure of the Federal Government to readily acknowledge the commercial component and value of their commercial right. Negotiations have been on going since the Supreme Court of Canada recognized their commercial fishery 13 years ago. Yet, to date, the Federal Crown has yet to confirm a mandate to settle their claim for the losses the Heiltsuk have sustained as a result of the Crown's denial of their commercial right.

"The stakes are very high for our people," said Heiltsuk Spokesperson and Chief Negotiator William Gladstone. "Our economy is deeply rooted in harvesting and trading land and sea products. Our right to harvest and sell herringspawn on kelp commercially, was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1996, however our commercial right has not been fully acknowledged and no reparation has been made for the severe losses our people have sustained flowing from of the Canadian government's denial of our commercial right -- a right which has been affirmed by the highest court in the land."

Mr. Gladstone said the Canadian government's failure to recognize the Supreme Court ruling has cost the Heiltsuk community millions of dollars in lost revenue and has severely contributed to the suppression of its people. Unemployment rates among the Heiltsuk people fluctuate between 80 to 90 per cent eight to 10 months out of the year. Alcohol, drug abuse and family violence are all well above the national average.

"Historically our people were progressive entrepreneurs, industrious and hardworking," said member of Heiltsuk Tribe, Reg Moody. "We are urging the Canadian government to acknowledge this long-outstanding case so that we can begin to bring our community back to self-sufficiency. We are a reasonable people and we are committed to good faith negotiations but so far our negotiations have failed to address the losses we have suffered. This must change."

The Heiltsuk plea closely follows a provincial-wide gathering of First Nations groups to discuss the protection of First Nations' fisheries resources. The gathering took place last week in Chehalis, B.C. and marked the 2009 Fisheries Assembly.

"We are standing together," said Chief Claxton, following the gathering. "B.C.'s First Nations are ready to move forward in cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to implement these important court decisions."


For further information: For further information: Media Contact: Beth Boyle, Spark PR, P: (604) 488-4736, beth@sparkgroup.ca

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