A Day to be Heard

Heiltsuk Nation stands firm on opposing open-net salmon farming in their traditional territory

by Michael Price
October 2006
From Bella Bella, BC

The October fog that has been veiling the central coast these last few days thins and vanishes like autumn’s early morning exhalation. It feels like a storm has passed, and lying in its wake is a new era.

Only hours ago, the government’s Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture visited the nearby Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, proposing an expansion of salmon farming into their traditional territory. We had been awaiting their arrival. Employment opportunities for the Heiltsuk are few, and a high paying farm job is enticing; the prospect of these jobs has lured many coastal communities in British Columbia to accept salmon farms.

These thoughts plagued my mind as I stood outside the Bella Bella band store yesterday. There, at the village hub, kids skid to a halt on their bikes after school to grab a sweet, and the ladies from the community bingo sit outside to trade a few dollars for dreams. I must have appeared like a whale on the beach, completely out of place and vulnerable to speculation. After hopelessly trying to persuade people to sign a petition against salmon farming, one of the ladies at the bingo table came to my rescue. She began calling her friends over, and I spent the next two hours racing around providing the pen and paper.

The Heiltsuk community’s unified voice against salmon farming rang clear, and only intensified during the following government hearing. The Heiltsuk in attendance proclaimed that they are salmon people, and they demanded that wild salmon remain the pillars of their environment. The Heiltsuk demonstrate extraordinary foresight by not placing their most precious resource at risk for the benefit of short-term economic gain; they proved that they are willing to make a sacrifice today, for the betterment of their children tomorrow. This is a concept powerful enough to get us out of the ecological mess our planet is in.

Now, after the hearing, my old aluminium boat skips happily across the sheltered ocean, and I am pleased to view an unaltered expanse of rainforest islands slipping into focus. I approach an estuary bent with straw-coloured sedges, where pink and chum salmon leap and frolic before their final ascent upstream. Ribbons of emerald green eelgrass sway beneath the bow. The sea has never looked so clear.


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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.