A piano tuner for more than 20 years, Priscilla Judd can instantly say when something is off-key.
When she heard that many Natives were going hungry because of the collapse of the sockeye salmon fishery last year, her instincts told her that this didn’t sound right.
In February, while the air was full of talk about celebrating First Nations culture and way of life during the Olympics, the 57-year-old resident of Lumby in the Okanagan started a blog to raise awareness of how aboriginal people are suffering because the sockeye didn’t return.
Judd also began collecting tins of salmon to help feed the needy. Moreover, she started writing members of Parliament as well as members of the provincial legislative assembly, and she hasn’t received much response.
“I feel quite devastated by the idea that here in Canada, people are starving,” Judd told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from her home.
Like many, she wants to know what went wrong with the sockeye salmon, a traditional source of nourishment for many First Nations bands.
It’s an issue that will receive prime attention when B.C. Supreme Court judge Bruce Cohen begins hearings on the decline of the stock in the Fraser River. Cohen heads the federal commission of inquiry into the sockeye salmon situation that was struck in November 2009.
Interested parties who want to participate in the hearings have until Wednesday (March 10) to apply for standing at the commission. Cohen is expected to hand in his report and recommendations on or before May 1, 2011.
On February 8, Arthur Manuel, former Neskonlith chief and current spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, dropped by the Judd residence. He picked up 141 tins of salmon that Judd had collected, and he took these to the Nicola Tribal Council in Merritt. From there, they were distributed to members of the Siska band.
In the past, Manuel said by phone, many Natives on reserves supplemented their monthly $168 welfare allowance through fishing, hunting, and collecting berries and herbs from the wild.
“But the thing is, nowadays it’s not that easy because of all the destruction the Province of British Columbia has been doing to the watershed by setting up ski resorts, golf courses, by settlements on lakefronts,” Manuel told the Straight. “Logging destroys a lot of the salmon spawning beds, so that salmon can’t lay their eggs, and there’s a depletion of salmon.”
Habitat destruction may partly explain why more than 80 percent of the 10.6 million returning fish predicted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada didn’t come back to the Fraser River last summer.
Some strongly believe that salmon aquaculture has contributed to the decline of the wild stock. Also, scientists have warned that warming ocean temperatures may affect the sustainability of salmon.
According to Judd, NDP New Westminster–Coquitlam MP and fishery critic Fin Donnelly was one of the few elected politicians who acknowledged her e-mails. “I think what we’re now looking at is a very complicated situation,” Donnelly told the Straight. “There are many that are saying that salmon farms and sea lice are a huge culprit. I think that definitely plays a role.”
Judd learned about the suffering of Natives due to the sockeye salmon collapse from Bill Chu, chair of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, a Lower Mainland–based group whose work includes reaching out to First Nations.
Late last December, Chu and his friends drove up to Mount Currie, the home of the Lil’wat First Nation, one of the four First Nations hosts of the 2010 Winter Games. They had with them a truckload of food.
In one instance, they were led by local contacts to what looked like a garden shack, no bigger than seven feet by 11 feet, in the middle of nowhere. Chu thought it was a storage space, until he saw a bed, a sink, a wood stove that was the only source of heat, and a Native man in the structure.
The man wasn’t the only resident there. “Hung from the ceiling of this low shack was a basket, and inside the basket”¦was a 10-month-old baby,” Chu told the Straight. “It’s a very heart-wrenching situation to know they don’t have food.”
Judd is now gathering her second collection of canned salmon.