Saturday, December 18, 2010

Conflict of knowledge (1)

An elder of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation cooking salmon, c. 1940. 
Photo Vancouver City Archives, source www.firstnations.eu

Part 1

This past week, representatives of BC First Nations were called to testify before the Cohen Commission which is inquiring in the decline of the Fraser sockeye. The stated purpose of this week's hearings was to provide the Commission with insight in the worldview, cultural context and traditional knowledge of the aboriginal people in relation to the salmon. In total, 14 First Nations leaders appeared over a period of three days to provide their testimonies.

The hearings rapidly turned into a frontal assault against DFO, as the various indigenous leaders took turns to convey the same message to Justice Bruce Cohen: the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is a tyrannical and incompetent agency which dismisses aboriginal traditional knowledge, routinely tramples over basic indigenous rights, and accelerates by its mismanagement the decline of BC's wild salmon.

The attack on DFO was no accident, nor was it (at least solely) the result of the aboriginal leaders' personal frustration and sense of aggravation with this agency's incompetence. Rather, and more fundamentally, it was the expression of a head-on collision between two systems of knowledge, two incompatible worldviews.

Most aboriginal witnesses started their testimonials [1] by explaining the meaning of “traditional knowledge”. The First Nations possess a unique and invaluable knowledge of the salmon which has been acquired over thousands of years and is passed from generation to generation through oral tradition and direct experimentation, under the guidance of a parent or elder. A key characteristic of that knowledge is that it is not acquired in the abstract inside a classroom, but through concrete interactions with the land and the living beings which inhabit it, leading to a direct empirical understanding of how things are connected to one another. I grew up on a boat, Rod Naknakim of the Laich-Kwil-Tach said. The entire village was involved in salmon fishing. My grandfather told me about his father being a fisherman. Fishing, Grand Chief Clarence Pennier of the Sto:lo said, is a family function which you learn from your parents and grandparents.

Chief William Charlie of the Chehalis:

I used to fish with my grandfather. He would tell me which type of net I needed to bring to catch the fish that we would have in the water that season. I asked him: how do you know which fish we are going to have? He pointed to plants and birds and animals and said: when they are here, this is the kind of fish we get in the water. It's part of a system. (…)

We try to understand the full ecology cycle. When the pussy willows appear and the robins and black birds are coming around, that's when the early spring salmon come back.

Rod Naknakim:

I was always amazed how my grandfather knew the area and when the fish would come, and how many. He would whistle at the orca whales and they would rub against the boat. He was famous for predicting the size of a salmon run. He would get into fights with DFO, telling them 'there is a big run coming', and often he was right. The elders would know which run was which just by looking at a fish, mostly from its size and appearance. I used to know some of the differences myself when I was young.

Chief Fred Sampson of the Siska: [2]

Our traditional knowledge is very important. My grandmother knew. She would wait till the mock orange blossoms were on the trees and say “now we will go fishing.” “Why not before?” I’d ask her. I could see the fish going by. She'd say, “those fish belong to somebody else, the people higher up the river. It is only when the mock orange blossoms come out that it is our turn to fish.”

Chief William Charlie:

I have a cousin who works in one of the spawning channels. He works with SFU. He would say: this one spawned, this one didn't but tried to, etc. And the SFU people were able to sample the fish and verify and confirm what he was saying. That knowledge was passed on to him by his father and grandfather. We need to integrate this knowledge with technology and modern tools.

In this worldview, having practical knowledge of a particular ecosystem cannot be dissociated from living in that ecosystem and depending on it for daily subsistence. This is why the witnesses, as they spoke before the Commission, tended not to separate factual knowledge from cultural tradition from dietary habits from stewardship of their land. Salmon are in our songs, dances, carvings, Rod Naknakim said. Twins in our family had their own salmon song to signify abundance, Chief Robert Mountain of the Namgis said, and he then added: when I was a child, we would live on the sockeye, we would eat sockeye three times a day and then we would have sockeye as snacks. Councilor June Quipp of the Cheam: we have to respect the salmon because it is such a big part of our lives. I teach my children and grandchildren about the meaning of the salmon and how we cannot waste that food.

Chief William Charlie:

Salmon contribute to the physical, spiritual, and social health of our people. When salmon has been a major part of your diet for so many generations, it becomes a part of you. It becomes soul food and medicine. You crave for it, you become anxious for it when the fishing season comes upon us.

When asked to define what stewardship of the salmon meant to him, Chief Charlie explained: stewardship is how we conduct ourselves to ensure that all living things carry on. We don't want to be the generation responsible for losing something, especially not the salmon.

DFO, however, does not recognize aboriginal knowledge as being useful or relevant to its mandate and, according to the witnesses, dismisses it altogether as being pseudo- or at best anecdotal knowledge. When asked by her legal counsel how DFO deals with her culture and traditional knowledge, Councilor June Quipp responded: They are in denial. They ignore our culture, they don't use their mandate to deal with it.

Chief Fred Sampson: [2]

The traditional ecological knowledge is not acknowledged, not respected by the scientists, by the management. We believe our traditional ecological knowledge is very important in caring for the fish. They [the scientists] would say “you just don’t understand the science” and we will say, “no, you don’t understand the role that traditional ecological knowledge plays.”

That denial is unfortunate according to the witnesses, since DFO is itself perceived by many First Nations as being a deeply ignorant organization which would gain much from tapping into some of the accumulated aboriginal knowledge. Such knowledge would help them, for example, to avoid some basic and rather embarrassing mistakes as they fumble to gather information on fish stock sizes. Chief Robert Mountain:

When I was a commercial fisherman, we were wondering what DFO was doing, fishing on the biggest tides when it was dangerous. They were doing tests at the wrong times when there was no fish, so their numbers on how many fish were out there were not accurate. DFO was doing the wrong tests at the wrong times in the wrong areas – and that's too bad, because our elders had, and still have, that knowledge.

The legal counsel of Chief Edwin Newman of the Heiltsuk produced a handwritten map maintained by the band, showing all the salmon-bearing streams and creeks in his territory. Most of those streams don't bear salmon anymore because of bad logging practices, Chief Newman commented as the map was being projected on the courtroom’s computer screens. We attempted to restore some of them, but we were told not do that, not to interfere with that. The map was entered as evidence in the Commission’s proceedings. On a similar note, Chief Robert Mountain commented:

I am concerned about the assessment done [by DFO] in the creeks. A lot of creeks are not recorded, even though we would see tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of salmon in those streams and creeks. There was a noticeable drop in the past 20 years. I used to swim in streams with 20,000 sockeye, and now there are maybe 1,000 of them.



[1] I am using quotes from aboriginal leaders which I transcribed to the best of my ability as the testimonies were being given at the Commission. While my transcriptions accurately convey the meaning of what was said, they may not always reflect the exact words used by the witnesses. For that, we will have the official transcripts which should be posted on the Commission's website within the next couple weeks. To indicate that my quotes are true in their content yet not necessarily exact in their form, I am using italics and no quotes whenever quoting an aboriginal witness.

[2] I was not present on the second day of the testimonials and so for those, I am relying on the transcripts provided by fellow activist Elena Edwards.




9 comments:

  1. nice ivan!
    you're on the right track.
    'soul food' was the expression that perfectly captures the exquisite taste and texture of wild sockeye salmon for me
    and is also the reason i cannot stomach the fake stuff
    'farm salmon'
    as for the DFO, we'd be better talking to a wall

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think the DFO have a plan to rid our rivers of wild salmon so all salmon will be farmed and become a totally comtrolled commodity!

    Part of the global privitization of food!

    ReplyDelete
  3. When I first lived in Clayoquot Sound twenty years ago I tried to find out why the DFO paid absolutely no attention to the numerous salmon streams being destroyed by horrible logging practices. Logging companies were logging right down to the stream beds. But no answer. The DFO didn't care. Nobody took responsibility for the damage. It was all out carnage. According to June Quipp and others testifying, the DFO peole are still wilfully ignorant. How can we have people who have such power over our foodstuffs make decisions that threaten the existence of such valuable species and ways of life? Only because federal and provincial governments appoint their political allies to assume such important posts, not the people who know best like First Nations elders. Corrupt politics is bringing us all near extinction. We are not largely different from salmon and our homeland is being destroyed just as theirs are faltering. And we grieve just as they do (consider the depression afflicting humans at the moment) when our own environment is crashing. Thanks for this, Ivan

    ReplyDelete
  4. Recommended reading. "Listening to Whales" by Alexandra Morton.
    Written from a love of the natural world and a lifelong commitment to the whales and their habitat, you will get an insight into the magic of BC that has inspired those of us who live here to do our best to protect it. Read it and then YOU decide whose science is really motivated in YOUR best interests. The book is a fascinating wealth of information about the Orca whales and about the northern coastal communities that should not be missed. This knowledge is important to understand before you place business above survival.
    The "Rockfish Conservation Areas" are another example in which DFO's commitment to Aquaculture has been prioritized over the protection of the habitat of a "species at risk". There are 58 aquaculture sites in contravention of Federal "Rockfish Conservation Areas". Conflict of interest. No he said/she said science there.
    http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/maps-cartes/rca-acs/index-eng.htm
    The Provincial government is quietly renewing all existing and expired Provincial aquaculture tenure sites without any transparent review of the rights of the industry to our waterway system. Does the mariners rights of navigation and the public need to access our anchorages for safety reasons take priority over the business plans of foreign industry? The Hinkson decision made it clear that the Province never had the legal right to regulate and authorize these Fisheries. This should also have questioned the processes used by this unauthorized administration to gain unprecedented possession of our public waterways for these private Fisheries. Water tenures without upland ownership or interests were not previously allowed in Canada. The Province permitted tenures to industry but tenures were denied to people. No he said/she said science there.
    Transport Canada is responsible for keeping dangerous man-made debris out of our waterways, yet has blindly approved all applications that do not impact large commercial shipping and has failed to properly monitor and enforce aquaculture hazards. The fact that thousands of small vessel operators in BC have been hugely impacted by the loss of safe havens to Aquaculture without our knowledge or permission has been ignored. We were neither adequately consulted nor properly notified of pending applications. Who is liable for vessel damages?.......for chart errors due to the inability to keep up to changing, expanding or new site locations? A conflict of interest. No he said/she said science there.
    Any small marine entrepreneur initiatives are mostly squashed and overwhelmed by excessive Federal commercial regulations in the name of safety, yet our most important safety tool is a safe haven and anchorage when on the water...... These have been dramatically and systematically reduced in number to permit private Fisheries. Our waterways have never been adequately protected for their transportation value, in spite of a coastline that has few roads but endless islands, fiords and channels accessible only by water. Another conflict of interest. No he said/she said science here.
    THE MARINERS OF BC DO NOT WANT AQUACULTURE FEEDLOTS IN OUR WATERWAYS! No discussion required. The Federal government may have made the "New" Aquaculture Regulations, but we can deny them the land, can't we?........We can and we will. First and Second Nations stand together for our coastal waters

    ReplyDelete
  5. Recommended reading. "Listening to Whales" by Alexandra Morton.
    Written from a love of the natural world and a lifelong commitment to the whales and their habitat, you will get an insight into the magic of BC that has inspired those of us who live here to do our best to protect it. Read it and then YOU decide whose science is really motivated in YOUR best interests. The book is a fascinating wealth of information about the Orca whales and about the northern coastal communities that should not be missed. This knowledge is important to understand before you place business above survival.
    The "Rockfish Conservation Areas" are another example in which DFO's commitment to Aquaculture has been prioritized over the protection of the habitat of a "species at risk". There are 58 aquaculture sites in contravention of Federal "Rockfish Conservation Areas". Conflict of interest. No he said/she said science there.
    http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/maps-cartes/rca-acs/index-eng.htm
    The Provincial government is quietly renewing all existing and expired Provincial aquaculture tenure sites without any transparent review of the rights of the industry to our waterway system. Does the mariners rights of navigation and the public need to access our anchorages for safety reasons take priority over the business plans of foreign industry? The Hinkson decision made it clear that the Province never had the legal right to regulate and authorize these Fisheries. This should also have questioned the processes used by this unauthorized administration to gain unprecedented possession of our public waterways for these private Fisheries. Water tenures without upland ownership or interests were not previously allowed in Canada. The Province permitted tenures to industry but tenures were denied to people. No he said/she said science there.
    Transport Canada is responsible for keeping dangerous man-made debris out of our waterways, yet has blindly approved all applications that do not impact large commercial shipping and has failed to properly monitor and enforce aquaculture hazards. The fact that thousands of small vessel operators in BC have been hugely impacted by the loss of safe havens to Aquaculture without our knowledge or permission has been ignored. We were neither adequately consulted nor properly notified of pending applications. Who is liable for vessel damages?.......for chart errors due to the inability to keep up to changing, expanding or new site locations? A conflict of interest. No he said/she said science there.
    Any small marine entrepreneur initiatives are mostly squashed and overwhelmed by excessive Federal commercial regulations in the name of safety, yet our most important safety tool is a safe haven and anchorage when on the water...... These have been dramatically and systematically reduced in number to permit private Fisheries. Our waterways have never been adequately protected for their transportation value, in spite of a coastline that has few roads but endless islands, fiords and channels accessible only by water. Another conflict of interest. No he said/she said science here.
    THE MARINERS OF BC DO NOT WANT AQUACULTURE FEEDLOTS IN OUR WATERWAYS! No discussion required. The Federal government may have made the "New" Aquaculture Regulations, but we can deny them the land, can't we?........We can and we will. First and Second Nations stand together.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The "Rockfish Conservation Areas" are another example in which DFO's commitment to Aquaculture has been prioritized over the protection of the habitat of a "species at risk". There are 58 aquaculture sites in contravention of Federal "Rockfish Conservation Areas". Conflict of interest. No he said/she said science there.
    http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/maps-cartes/rca-acs/index-eng.htm

    Our waterways have never been adequately protected for their transportation value, in spite of a coastline that has few roads but endless islands, fiords and channels accessible only by water. Another conflict of interest. No he said/she said science here.
    THE MARINERS OF BC DO NOT WANT AQUACULTURE FEEDLOTS IN OUR WATERWAYS! No discussion required. The Federal government may have made the "New" Aquaculture Regulations, but we can deny them the land, can't we?........We can and we will. First and Second Nations stand together.
    Sidney, BC

    ReplyDelete
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