Friday, July 14, 2006

Don't play the race card

Following up on Stephen Harper's letter to the nowhere near an ocean Calgary Herald, Conservative Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice yesterday once again reaffirmed his government's opposition to a "race-based fishery" in British Columbia. Pardon my language, but I'm going to have to call bullshit on this one.

At least Mr.Prentice made his comments in B.C. this time. In fact, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre is just steps from the harbour. And credit to Jim for doing it before a far from friendly crowd, the annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations.

Here's a quote from Prentice's speech, as reported by the Globe this morning:

"We are not supportive of a racially segregated fishery," Mr. Prentice told chiefs gathered for a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.

You know what; I'm not supportive of a racially segregated fishery. I doubt the AFN is either. And we don't have a racially segregated fishery today. First Nations access to the fishery isn't based on race; it's based on treaty rights, court rulings, and law. They were here first, the government signed treaties with (some of) them, and those rights need to be respected.

The attempt by Harper and Prentice to frame the issue of access to the fishery, which is a difficult and contentious one, as one of race is dangerous, divisive, and irresponsible. I thought a friend of mine from Campbell River and a leader in the native community who was at the meeting and confronted the minister, Dan Smith, said it well:

"The segregated fishery or race-based fishery comments, do you know what that does to our people in the community, in the schools, at home in terms of interacting with the non-native community? It fuels the fire of prejudice and discrimination. That's what it does, Mr. Minister," said Chief Dan Smith of Campbell River First Nation, within which the Fraser River flows.*

My own feeling is that conservation needs to be the top concern. I think the fishery has been hopelessly and unfairly mismanaged, and significant reforms are needed. We should look at reform, and debate the issue. However, attempting to frame this is an issue of race is a red herring that will only inflame tensions and distract from the real issues. This isn't behaviour we should expect from the government of Canada.

Don't play the race card, Mr. Harper.

*Just a note to my fellow Carleton alum Bill Curry at the Globe. Campbell River is on Vancouver Island, the Fraser River is on the mainland, so the Fraser River does not flow through the land of the Campbell River First Nation.

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s.b. said...

It's an historical and heritage rights based issue, not a race issue.

Lapps are white and they have aboriginal rights in most of Northern Europe including Finland, Norway, Russia etc.

The Rat said...

The "race based fishery" is a fully commercial, native-only fishery. Food and ceremonial fisheries are not being challenged, nor is the semi-legal selling of fish caugt in the food fishery. The only thing being challenged is the commercial openings available to natives only. There is no aboriginal right to aboriginal-only sein boats dropping off tonnes of fish to the packing plant. So before you go off on aboriginal rights, remember what we're talking about.

Meaghan Walker-Williams said...

Except for thousands of years, Coast Salish people did fish beyond mere subsistence, and they used that fish in trade.

This whole BS that natives are only allowed to fish if it's for subsistence or ceremony is completely antithetical to every economics text book I have read about free-market economics.

And yet, the right-wingers want to always claim that despite the fact that they believe in a free-market for themselves, natives should not be allowed to engage in the same free-market, just as they did for thousands of years, nor should they be able to have some control over the resources that belonged to them and STILL do belong to them, so long as no TREATIES have been signed that have extinguished those rights.

if anything, it's non-native commercial fisherman who should be begging the natives for liscenes based on jurisdictional rights... not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

First of all, this raced based fishery stuff is bullshit.

BCer you're right its based on court decisions and rights (not treaties as there were none in BC until Nisgaa, I think one other has been concluded since) in most cases, Supreme Court decisions, like Marshall, Delgumuk(sp) and a ton of others. Not only that, if John Cummins and the rest of his knuckle dragging gang out there can prove he and his ancestors have fished out there since time in memorial before Europeans inhabited those areas, then he can have a rights based fishery as well.

Also, where is the fisheries minister on this, maybe its because he doesn't agree with all this because I used to work at INAC and this is fisheries file. Me thinks that Steve gave it to Prentice because Hearn is a reasonable man has a problem with this stance (which is very western and Tom Flanaganesque in nature so he gave to Prentice to deal with. Prentice as a former land claims and native rights lawyers should know better should be ashamed of himself for backing down to Little Stevie, however we know how much little Stevie likes people to disagree wtih, might of cost him his job.

robedger said...

great post Jeff

Anonymous said...

My house had a protective covenant on it that said:

"no Jews, Japs, Chinamen, or people of the Negroid race are to own this property"

Needless to say, it's invalid now. So should any race-based treaties. Except that BC didn't sign any treaties with Natives long ago.

Oh, and this fishery isn't in the Ocean.

Been in TO too long, eh?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Well, I have been in TO too long. I think that goes without saying. But while the fishery takes place on the river where the salmon return to spawn, the ocean does tend to play a fairly important part in the salmon lifecycle.

Toronto Tory said...

The Fraser river isn't an ocean.

There are many places where one can find fish.

Thought you'd like to know...

Simon Pole said...

Its interesting that University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan was mentioned, because this is where Harper's advice on the file seems to be coming from -- not B.C.

I am surprised Harper has chosen this as one of his "red meat" issues to keep his base happy (after back pedaling on same sex and so forth). B.C. premier Gordon Campbell tried to use B.C. natives as a punching bag during his first term, and it backfired.

Harper is already down in B.C. because of the atrocious soft wood lumber deal -- stirring up trouble on the water will just raise a stink that might stick to the Cons.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Did you have a point, Torotno Tory? Before answering, I'd invite you to read the thread again and do a little research about salmon and their lifecycle. This page might be a good place to start: