Solidarity with salmon defenders
200 support First Nations opposition to fish farms
By Alice de Wolff
The science surrounding Atlantic salmon farming and First Nations’ opposition to these farms on their territories in the Broughton Archipelago came together at a powerful event Thursday night in Courtenay.
Two hundred Comox people filled the North Island College theatre to view the documentary “Salmon Confidential,” and show their support for First Nations who have occupied a Marine Harvest first farm since August on Midsummer Island, near the Broughton Archipelago just east of Port McNeil on northern Vancouver Island.
The Comox Valley event took place just two days after a B.C. judge ordered the defenders to take down a camp they had been occupying since August. The wild salmon defenders represent the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, ‘Namgis, Mamalilikala and Lawit’sis First Nations.
While the court order was a disappointing moment in the struggle to have the farms removed, it allowed two key young activists, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, to attend the event in person. Their presence brought a personal sense of immediacy to the gathering.
They told the large crowd that First Nations are not going to stop opposing farms in their territory.
The Kumugwe Dancers opened the evening. They shared traditional dances that honoured the salmon, offered healing and called to the powerful spirit of the ocean.
The crowd then took a moment to honour the work of the late Twyla Roskovich, who made and narrated the documentary film. People were encouraged to donate to the scholarship that has been established in her name.
The film features biologist Alexandra Morton and her struggle to help identify what is causing dramatic declines in wild salmon populations. She and others have been concerned for many years about the extent to which parasites, viruses and heart disease are present in Atlantic farmed salmon and their impact on B.C.’s wild fish.
Roskovich’s documentary investigates disputes between scientists, and the apparent muzzling of critics of the industry. It includes interviews with B.C.’s Animal Health Centre’s fish pathologist Gary Marty, whose findings and connection with the industry have recently come under scrutiny by the new provincial government.
Activist Sally Gellard delivered a statement of solidarity on behalf of Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Sally travelled to the Midsummer Island camp two weeks ago, along with six other Council of Canadians supporters, and delivered the same message then.
She emphasized that one of the key acts of reconciliation our governments could take is implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale then spoke about their experience of being served with an eviction notice and appearing in front of the judge in Vancouver. Their quiet clarity and unwavering dedication to the removal of farms from their territories brought the audience to its feet in a long standing ovation.
Carla Voyageur also spoke. She is a central coordinator of the campaign, and is Molina’s mother. She reminded the audience about the need to pressure both levels of government not to renew the fish farm licences.
She encouraged all supporters to not purchase farmed Atlantic salmon. And she brought the gathering back to a key reason that pushed her community into action: Her relatives and others on the coast do not have enough food fish for this winter and she is very concerned about how people are going to survive.
The evening was hosted by the Comox Valley Council of Canadians. It raised funds for the Twyla Roskovich Scholarship held by the Gulf Island Film and Television School, and the on-going work of the salmon defenders.
Alice de Wolff is a citizen journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project, and a national director for the Council of Canadians. She lives in Union Bay. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.