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Native American communities in BC, Alaska, declare a state of emergency over Pacific salmon

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A group of indigenous communities in Alaska and British Columbia have declared a state of emergency related to Pacific salmon populations and say First Nations and Tribes need to become more involved in managing traditional resources.

“We’re just exploring the idea right now, to see how we can work together to manage salmon for our future generations,” said Guy Archibald, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indian Transboundary Commission (SEITC).

“This is an emergency. We can’t wait any longer. We have to act now.”

The SEITC recently hosted a summit at the Lummi Nation in Washington state for indigenous leaders from the Pacific Rim regions of Canada and the US SEITC is a consortium of 15 Tsimshian, Tlingit and Haida nations.

The focus of the meeting was the apparent decline in salmon populations and how indigenous communities can work together across borders to preserve populations.

A lone Chinook salmon swims past an underwater viewing window on the Whitehorse Fish Ladder in August 2022. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

“Indigenous people have, you know, a long history of being able to successfully and productively manage these watersheds. We deserve a seat at this table and how these watersheds are managed,” Archibald said.

“We’re not looking to move the border, we’re looking to erase it.”

Archibald said a task force has been formed to determine how to move forward. He said the goal is to assert indigenous authority over traditional territory and have greater influence over large resource development projects that could threaten the salmon population.

“We don’t want to just have these yearly meetings where we wring our hands and complain about the state of things… We want to get this together, organized and progress, you know, in between these yearly meetings. So it’s got to happen in less than a year”.

A group of people at a conference table are viewed from behind, looking at a projection screen.
Delegates at the SEITC summit. (SEITC)

Violet Gatensby was at the recent summit as a youth representative from Carcross, Yukon. She told delegates that, for her, salmon exists mainly in stories now.

“I just wanted to share with them a little bit of what I know about what’s going on here, to encourage them to avoid the history that we have,” he said.

Gatensby said it was “scary” to hear from other indigenous communities and realize they were all seeing the same trends.

“It was actually quite scary to hear how similar everyone’s stories were,” he said.

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