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Dzawada’enuxw First Nation community members, including matriarchs, elected and traditional leaders, and artists, were in Vancouver Thursday to announce their decision to sue the Government of Canada.

The First Nation, from Kingcome Inlet, B.C., filed a statement of claim in federal court in Vancouver on Thursday, arguing the federal government authorized licenses for fish farms operating in their waters, without their consultation or consent.

The claim says the fish farm operations pollute and poison wild salmon and infringe on the nation’s constitutionally protected rights. Their case is the first ever rights-based challenge to the federal licensing process that fish farm companies rely on to operate along the coast of B.C.

According to the statement of claim, the federal government did not consult the community or gain consent for 10 open net pen fish farms, infringing on the nation’s "Aboriginal rights," protected under Sec. 35 of the Constitution Act. The fish farms are said to harm their waters and profoundly impact wild salmon populations, sea life, animal life, and the Dzawada’enuxw Nation community’s way of life. Claims have not yet been heard in court.

"Our salmon stocks continue to decline rapidly and soon I fear the very possibility that our salmon will be no more. It is a keystone species and its decline impacts us on so many levels," said Faron Soukochoff, elected chair of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation at a press conference on unceded Coast Salish territories Thursday morning. Soukochoff said the legal action taken on Jan. 10 was on behalf of their children and future generations who have the right to enjoy the same opportunities his people fight to protect today. Photo by Michael Ruffolo Faron

Soukochoff was one of five speakers at the press conference announcing the Nation’s groundbreaking decision to take Canada to court for infringing on their constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights, which are further supported by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"Everything in existence has a perfect balance, a symmetry," said Soukochoff.

"Casting aside all that we hold dear in the pursuit of the almighty dollar throws off that balance, bringing chaos to order. I was raised on the land and water and taught to respect all of the creator’s creation — the animals, the sea, the land, Mother Earth, and I will teach my sons and my grandchildren the same teachings, to show them that perfect balance, the symmetry, and why we must do all we can to take care of what has been bestowed on us as First Nations people, as human beings.”

​ "It’s an honour to be here and stand in the footsteps of the great people that have gone before us in all of these other proceedings that have laid the foundation for this case," lawyer Jack Woodward said at the Jan. 10 press conference in Vancouver. Photo by Michael Ruffolo

The nation’s lawyer, Jack Woodward, said the lawsuit was the latest in a series of important legal actions undertaken by the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation in the last year. In June, the nation sought an injunction to stop the renewal of licenses of nine fish farms owned and operated by companies Marine Harvest and Cermaq. The claim made Thursday goes beyond the provincial government’s authorization of the location of the pens, straight to the federal government’s licensing process under Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The farms, Woodward said, were licensed, constructed and operated despite no consultation with the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation.

"That’s just not legal under Canadian law," Woodward said, referring to Sec. 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, as well as the development of the definition, scope and application of Indigenous rights through groundbreaking cases like the […]

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