Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a town hall meeting in Nanaimo on Feb. 2.(Photo - Nanaimo News Bulletin)

Justin Trudeau’s town hall lacks clarity for Ahousaht First Nation

Chief says Prime Minister was respectful, but vague

Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie attended Justin Trudeau’s town hall meeting in Nanaimo last week and was one of the hand-raised attendees to be called on by the Prime Minister during the Feb. 2 event.

Prior to asking his question, Louie asked two particularly loud hecklers peppering Trudeau with criticisms to be respectful.

“While I’m speaking, I hope those two across from me can be quiet so the Prime Minister and everybody else can listen to me and the answer I’m expecting,” Louie said. “Please, be quiet.”

With the crowd momentarily settled, Louie asked Trudeau about the status of the T’aaq-wiihak Court Case that, he said, has been on the federal docket for “eight to nine years.”

The case involves five Nuu chah nulth Nations—Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinehkint, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht—fighting for their right to fish and sell the fish they catch.

“There’s still far too many limitations to what they can and cannot do Mr. Prime Minister and I would like to know when your cabinet will make a decision,” Louie said.

Trudeau said he has had “many discussions” with his minister of justice Jody Wilson-Raybould and minister of fisheries Dominic LeBlanc to carve out a way to move forward in a way that is “respectful of science and evidence, is respectful of traditional knowledge, traditional practices [and] traditional territory.”

He acknowledged the issue has taken too long to resolve.

“Thank you for your leadership and also thank you for the patience. I know these are issues that have gone on far too long. You mention eight to nine years, but really these are issues that go back decades and even generations and it is time we move forward on them,” he said.

“There are no easy answers on this. This is something that we have to work through together, but it is something that we will, I pledge to you, sit down, work with you, listen to your concerns and figure out what is the right path forward for your community and for everyone…There are folks who are impatient. I’m impatient, you’re impatient. We know we need to get this done. We also know we need to get it right and that’s exactly what we will do.”

Louie told the Westerly News on Monday that he was pleased to have attended the town hall and that he felt Trudeau had respected his question, but added the Prime Minister’s response did not provide much clarity.

He said there is confusion around how the meetings Trudeau pledged to have would be set up.

“What does that look like? And who is we? Does that mean him or does that mean the Fisheries Minister,” he asked. “Does that mean Minister LeBlanc is going to come to British Columbia and sit down and talk with our T’aaq-wiihak negotiators and team? And, if that’s what it means, when will that happen?”

He said he was unable to talk with Trudeau after the town hall and hasn’t heard from the PM’s office since the event, but the five Nations are investigating their next steps.

“The Nuu chah nulth Nations on the West Coast want to be able to go fishing. This is about title and rights. We want to be able to go fishing and make a decent living fishing,” he said. “What I hear from the fisherman on the negative side is that there’s a lot of restrictions.”

He cited boat size, fishing location and prohibited gear as examples of restrictions frustrating fishers.

“There needs to be some clarity. What is this decision going to mean for Ahousaht and the other Nations?” he asked. “Does it mean there’s going to be more open fishing around the coast? Will the season be a little longer? Will they be able to go further out into the fishing grounds? There’s a lot of uncertainty.”