Native rights are on record

Editor:

Re: Racial segregation unacceptable, Sept. 19 letters.

Editor:

Re: Racial segregation unacceptable, Sept. 19 letters.

The native perspective on Pacific fisheries should be clear to everyone.

As Diane Newell points out in her book, Tangled Webs of History, First Nations claim aboriginal title to their fisheries. For thousands of years, natives have lived in distinct communities and harvested fish, especially salmon, which they consumed, traded and used for ceremonies.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Van der Peet (1996), noted it is that fact “which separates aboriginal peoples from all other minority groups… and mandates their special legal, and now constitutional status.”

Moreover, section 35(1) of the Canadian Constitution, 1982, which keys on aboriginal and treaty rights, must be both upheld and given a “generous liberal interpretation,” according to the Supreme Court in R. v. Sparrow (1990).

As for traditions, they are important to natives, but not to a slavish extent. Anishinabe lawyer John Borrows argues the adoption of new traditions is integral to the survival of First Nation communities.

But don’t discount aboriginal technology; in 1894, in response to charges of overfishing, B.C. fishing regulations were changed to “no Indian shall spear, trap or pen fish.” In the early 1900s, fishery officers destroyed weirs at the Babine, Bulkley, Cowichan and Fraser Rivers. Natives were then given gillnets to work with.

And while the commercial right of natives to sell fish is restricted, Canadian courts confirm First Nations can sell their land – something their ancestors never did. This anomaly has never been explained.

Native traditions dictate the land and resources must be shared; let’s hope with understanding and mutual respect on all sides.

Bob Burgel, Surrey