Fishing rights are one of the major areas of dispute for aboriginals in Canada today. Dianne Newell explores this controversial issue and looks at the ways government regulatory policy and the law have affected Indian participation in the Pacific Coast fisheries.
For centuries, the economies of Pacific Coast Indians were based on their fisheries. Marine resources, mainly salmon, were used for barter, trade, ceremony, and personal consumption. This pattern persisted after the arrival of European and Asian immigrants, even during the first phases of the non-Indian commercial fishing industry when Indian families were depended upon for their labour and expertise. But as the industrial fishery grew, changes in labour supply, markets, and technology rendered Pacific Coast Indians less central to the enterprise and the aboriginal fishery became legally defined as food fishing. By the late 1960s, rigid new licence limitation policies were introduced and regulations transformed the processing sector.
The result was reduced participation for fishermen and shoreworkers and the opportunities for Indian men and women declined dramatically. Government programs to increase or even stabilize Indian participation ultimately failed. Newell concludes that the governments of Canada and BC have historically regarded the aboriginal fishery narrowly and unjustly as a privilege, not a right, and have in fact moved against any changes which might put Indians into competition with non-Indians. Recently, BC Indians won a Supreme Court victory in Sparrow (1990) that will make it easier to change federal fisheries policies but aboriginal fishing rights remain before the courts and under federal government investigation.
Awarded the Canadian Historical Association's British Columbia and Yukon Certificate of Merit Award for 'Professor Newell's courageous critique of a history of mismanagement and misunderstanding in one of the region's key sectors should provide pause for thought to anyone with an interest in the workings of the modern state.'
'Tangled Webs of History is a superb example of multidisciplinary analysis that broadens our understanding of the complex links between cultural, economic, and environmental history.'
'Newell succeeds wonderfully in demonstrating how the continual interplay among and between executive, legislative and judicial powers of the state affects a resource and the people who depend upon it, particularly as this interplay is shaped by ethnic and industrial capitalist interests ...[Newell] has provided an important study, one that clearly articulates the context and processes framing the key issues in current directions of the definition and expression of Native rights, both within the British Columbia fisheries and in the many other settings where these issues are being addressed.'
'Whatever the future may hold for Aboriginal peoples in Canada's Pacific coast fisheries, Newell's book will certainly contribute to a better understanding of the history of the fisheries for all peoples who are concerned about and interested in these matters.'
'A thoroughly-researched and carefully-constructed account of long-standing questions about the rights of aboriginal persons in British Columbia and their attempts to secure legal recognition of and protection for these rights.'
'This work is essential reading for educators in the fields of history, anthropology, and Native studies. It would also be profitably read by Native-rights advocates and adversaries. In particular, those with an interest in the commercial fishery, regardless of their biases, would find Newell's work insightful.'