Aboriginal spots on salmon commission lapse
VANCOUVER - The federal government has allowed the only two First Nations appointments to a Canada-U.S. commission that manages Pacific salmon to lapse, prompting aboriginal fishermen to accuse Ottawa of shutting them out.
The Pacific Salmon Commission was set up as part of the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty, which governs how salmon are managed and shared off the West Coast.
Each country appoints eight people to the commission: four commissioners and four alternates, though in practice all eight are treated as full members.
Traditionally, Canada has had one First Nations commissioner and one First Nations alternate, but the most recent aboriginal commissioner, Grand Chief Saul Terry of the Bridge River Indian Band, north of Vancouver, wasn't reappointed after his term ended in March of last year. Ottawa has yet to name a replacement.
The First Nations alternate commissioner, Russ Jones of the Haida Nation, hasn't been formally reappointed since his term expired last March, though he isn't sure whether that means he's on or off the commission.
Jones said he's still permitted to attend and participate in commission meetings, but the Fisheries Department has stopped covering his travel expenses and he's been unable to get any explanation from the federal government. He's received help from aboriginal fishing groups to cover his travel costs.
"Currently, there are no First Nations commissioners appointed, although I have been participating as I can," Jones said in an interview ahead of a major Pacific Salmon Commission meeting taking place this week in Vancouver.
"It certainly does (present a problem), especially when we have high First Nation participation in the fisheries."
The Pacific Salmon Commission referred questions about the roster of Canadian commissioners to Ottawa.
The federal Fisheries Department declined to comment about when, or even if, it would reappoint First Nations members to the commission, responding with a brief written statement that said decisions are "pending." The department did not answer a question about Jones' status as an alternate commissioner.
The Fisheries Department's written statement also ignored questions about concerns that First Nations aren't adequately represented on the commission.
The Opposition NDP said in a news release the foot-dragging in reappointing the aboriginal commissioners is part of the Conservative government's pattern of not listening to First Nations concerns.
Fisheries critic Fin Donnelly said the work of the salmon commission depends on input from aboriginal representatives. …