Fishing has always been a main source of our people’s diet. Fish were smoked, dried and eaten fresh in season, it was not until much later we began to can and freeze fish as ways of preserving food for the off season. As the Pilalt people are a fishing tribe, all our reserves are situated by a river, although sometimes now the river is channeled away or the spawning grounds destroyed. A fisherman was a well-respected person; fishermen catch fish for their families, the elders, single parents and for Cheam ceremonies. Traditionally, Cheam fisherman always knew when and where to fish at all times of the year. Fishing has also been a way of visiting as family and friends would see each other on the river.
In the 1960s, it became against the law to give brothers and sisters fish to eat. It was also against the law if you lived on one side of the river to bring your fish home to process. As families grew, there were less and less fishing spots to use, with some families having no spot to fish. At one time, unless you were a commercial fisherman, you could not buy new gear. If there was a store that sold fishing gear to First Nations, other people would boycott the store. When Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) allowed the sport sector to target sockeye, they were allowed to use a method called bottom bouncing or flossing. This was basically a version of snagging fish, which was against the law. After about eight years, bottom bouncing was not allowed. With more and more sport fishermen fishing for sockeye, there was conflict with First Nations. Sport fishermen could fish seven days a week but the First Nations people were only allowed two or three days a week to fish, Both were competing for the same water.
In 1990, the Sparrow case, decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, set out that any government fishing regulations must not infringe on First Nations rights to fish. It set out the priority for fishing as: (1) conservation, (2) First Nation fishing, (3) commercial fishing, and (4) sport fishing. Our rights are guaranteed under the constitution and the government is only able to change the constitution when all the provinces have agreed, and then Canada would have to negotiate to extinguish our rights.
“The river tribes” have been bearing the brunt of conservation because commercial and sports have a crack at it first. Beach seining started out as a scientific license. An outcry from the commercial fisherman stopped this and afterward it came off the quota for First Nations, this only benefited a few. DFO wanted us to seine for our fish as then they would have better control over the fish. This ignores the social cost of depriving a person from saying that he is a fisherman and by being a fisherman had the opportunity to catch his own fish and feed his family. Using beach seining to get our food leaves fishing to a few and lessens the amount of fish taken to eat and teaches us to fish with our hand out. Those bands that have people fishing for the community sometimes only get single digit fish to last the year. This takes away from our culture of fisher people. There might come a time when there will be only fish for conservation and First Nations. My wish, if there his fishing by commercial and or sports sector and conservation is called for the river tribes, that the test fish be given to First Nations to be given to the elders and single parents.”
In 2000, the Federal Government claimed Ferry Island and deemed it park lands including a one-kilometer range of water front along the river banks. The Cheam First Nation decided to reclaim these lands. The West Coast Warriors Society demonstration started out as a one day blockade of Highway 9 to inform the general public of Cheam’s true ownership of the lands and also of the potential to implement a toll booth and blockade of C.N. Railway if our demands were not met. The demonstration lasted about four months and the federal government agreed to the Cheam First Nation claim.
- Develop a strategy for fish management
- Design a Fraser River Stewardship Plan
- Create a vision for economic development
- Create Business partnerships
- Design an intake channel for boats
- Develop a design for a potential Marina
- Develop land codes
- Develop a land use plan