A Nisg̱a’a scholar at the head of a new centre at the University of British Columbia is working to bring attention to the ongoing criminalization of Indigenous fisheries.
The centre’s director says the project — based out of UBC’s larger Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries — has been years in the making.
“The Centre for Indigenous Fisheries is really positioned around community-based work and bringing Indigenous communities in as full partners around the research process,” she says.
“The work … is really about responding to community needs. Our first projects are based around ideas of the nations [we’ve consulted with].”
One of the centre’s first initiatives, that will continue through 2021, is a multimedia project called Fish Outlaws, documenting the criminalization and dispossession of Indigenous fisheries around the Salish Sea.
The National Geographic Society has given a grant to four of its designated “National Geographic Explorers” — Reid, conservation scientist Lauren Eckert, documentarian Amy Romer, and Lummi writer Rena Priest — to work with nations to record the issue and imagine a fairer future.
“We’re bringing together all of our passions on this project,” Reid says.
“We hope to be building an interactive and multimedia website that brings together the main outputs of all of our skill sets.”
The four women will do archival research and consult with communities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border to build their website, which will share stories, essential histories, and community visions for justice.
“We’re really trying to create space for youth in this process, so we’re currently identifying some key youth who are engaged in stewardship in their communities and want to get more exposure,” Reid says.
“What we’ll be doing is having them participate in our interviews and be there alongside us.”
Reid says they’re also looking to hear from people in West Coast communities who have stories to share about fishery-related injustices.
The effort is inspired in part by the recent high-profile violence that erupted on the East Coast, where non-Indigenous commercial fishers began attacking treaty-protected Mi’kmaq lobster harvesters, their catches and equipment.
In B.C., First Nations fishers have been charged for holding their first salmon ceremonies, or arrested after being hounded to sell fish by undercover fisheries officers, and tensions have generally been high between Indigenous and commercial fishers over demand for increasingly limited seafood stocks.
“In many cases there are individuals who have been fined … for exercising what ought to be constitutionally-protected fishing rights,” Reid says.
“We really want to explore these topics here (and) we’re aware of these parallels that are broader.”
‘The stars aligned’
Other projects on the horizon for the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries include research partnerships with several First Nations in the Lower Fraser region, and hiring on another faculty member.
Fisheries historian Dianne Newell, interim director of the centre, says this launch has been a longtime coming.
Newell has been working at UBC since the 1980s, and says though there has been interest in more Indigenous-focused research on fisheries in the Faculty of Science, things haven’t aligned in the right way until now.
Newell was key in forming a committee that eventually pitched the idea of an Indigenous fisheries centre to UBC.
“When I was putting together our physical proposal, I did a lot of research, I went all over campus,” she says.
“I was very fortunate that everyone was so supportive of this idea.”
Newell says after years of work in the faculty and consulting with communities, “the stars aligned” when they were able to recruit Reid.
“She’s unstoppable in terms of reaching out to communities. She sees that as her need as well as her obligation,” Newell says.
“People will really respond to her. She’s also walking into an environment that’s already started to change.”
‘A path home’
Currently, Reid is the only Indigenous-identifying person in UBC’s Faculty of Science.
She is a citizen of Nisg̱a’a Nation in northwestern B.C., but grew up on the opposite coast on Prince Edward Island.
Her work with Indigenous fisheries has brought her around the world, but eventually brought her back home, where she’s been able to contribute research, connect with relatives and ultimately be a part of something she says was started by her ancestors.
“[It’s been] a pathway to reconnect to a part of my heritage that I didn’t get to grow up with,” she says. “It was a path home for me.”
Her experience has led her to want to create space for Indigenous students at UBC, as they work on their own projects that will allow them to connect with culture and their own home territories.
“That’s going to be a major focus for me moving forward is their training and their mentorship,” she says.
“We need to cultivate a more positive environment where students aren’t asked to leave a part of themselves at the door.”