Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC)

Holds Third Annual Indigenous Leaders’ Summit for US Tribes and BC First Nations

November 9 & 10, 2021

Indigenous leaders from British Columbia and the United States met to address the vanishing Pacific wild salmon. This was the third such meeting organized by the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), a coalition of fifteen federally recognized Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Tribal governments in Alaska that share watersheds with First Nations in Canada.

During the two-day meeting, discussions centered around shared challenges and successes, Indigenous people have faced in the regions and how those challenges involve salmon.

The leaders represent an area encompassing what is now Montana, Idaho, Washington State, Southeast Alaska, as well as coastal and interior British Columbia. One of the last places where the earth still sustains cultures thousands of years old, the region contains many great rivers spanning an international border including the Snake, Skeena, Columbia, Stikine, Fraser, Nass, Unuk, and Taku Rivers, just to name a few. From their headwaters to the Pacific Ocean, these are some of the last great salmon rivers.

The joint statement issued partially reads: 

“We, the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest have thrived for millennia in an ever-changing world. Industrial impacts including runaway climate change threaten our ways of life, wild salmon, the land, and the waters that feed us. Salmon have always been more than a food source. Salmon are the backbone of our society, culture, and ceremony. Salmon tie us together with the land and water.” 

Colonial institutions that have created barriers to free movement, polluted the water, imposed borders dividing watersheds, and fisheries that intercept salmon before they can return to their spawning streams along with oil, gas, timber, and mining development harm both salmon and the people who depend on them. “The land is us and we are the land,” said Rob Sanderson Jr, Chair of SEITC. 

The problems are rooted in the fact that Indigenous knowledge and land management practices have been ignored. The solution is returning to centuries-old practices that are less about management and more about connection. “We know how to do this,” stated Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. “The world has changed but we haven’t. We’re all still relatives and we can and must stand together.” 

“There has been some progress in British Columbia”, says Frank Brown, Senior Advisor to the Indigenous Leaders Initiative and Indigenous Land Guardians of the Heiltsuk Nation “recent governments have been working to integrate Indigenous Rights and conservation methods in Canada and to form Indigenous Protected Areas to help Canada achieve its conservation goals of 25% biodiversity conservation by 2025”.

 

The passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) by BC and Canada accepting without qualification The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Canada aspires to provide a framework for joint decision-making between Indigenous governments, the province, and Canadian Government on matters that will impact their citizens. “The process of implementation of DRIPA and UNDRIP is still unknown, it is up to us to define what it means,” said Hup Wil Lax A (Kirby Muldoe), the Facilitator of the meeting and Indigenous Engagement Specialist for SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “The colonial governments have to put their words into action, honor their commitments, and recognize that we are inextricably linked to salmon”. 

The Alaska Tribes share the watersheds wild salmon require to survive. A recent Canadian Supreme Court decision upheld the right of non-Canadian Indigenous peoples living in the United States to hunt and otherwise practice traditional activities in territories that existed prior to the establishment of the border between Canada and the U.S. Alaska Tribes seem to have more rights in Canada than in Alaska where the state government still refuses to acknowledge the sovereignty of the 229 indigenous nations within its borders. 

This group is working to implement indigenous-led ecosystem-based land use practices that protect culture, wildlife, ecosystems, and local economies. “The life systems that we have relied on for thousands of years, now need us” said Guujaaw of the Haida Nation. Added Muldoe, “It may be the only way to stem climate change and protect the diversity of life.”

The group calls on all governments, Indigenous leaders, and allies to work together to maintain wild salmon within healthy ecosystems for future generations.

 

P.O. Box 20841

Juneau, AK 99802