Dr. Andrea Reid discusses Indigenous fisheries approaches

The scientist highlights “the complex interrelationships between fish, people, and place”

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This is a photo of the outside of the Institute of Fisheries and Oceans at the University of British Columbia.
PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

Dr. Andrea Reid launched and has been leading the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia for the past two years. She took time to have a virtual conversation with the Georgia Straight Alliance. The Peak attended the talk, where she spoke about the various roles of fisheries and Indigenous fisheries approaches for sustainable fishing solutions. 

Reid is a citizen of the Nisga’a nation and opened her talk in Nisga’a, a language she is currently learning. She shared what drew her to this topic: her love of Lisims. Lisims is the Nisga’a name for the Nass river in northern British Columbia — she described it as the “home of my nation.” 

Reid used the figure of the gramophone to symbolize Indigenous resistance and resurgence. She saw one in the Nisga’a museum in Laxgalts’ap in the living rivers exhibit. When she inquired about it, she was told when the Canadian government banned potlatches from 1884 to 1951, “Our people would gather in homes or in halls under the auspices of gathering for a Bible study and they would loudly play hymns over the gramophone while they would quietly go about their business and discuss the particulars of the fishing plan.” 

Fishing in Lisims has been important to the Nisga’a nation since time immemorial, according to Dr. Reid. “Fisheries are so much more than just food [ . . . ] They are also our livelihoods, economies. They sustain our health and well-being. They are foundational to our cultures, our peoplehood, our identities.” 

The Indigenous fisheries scientist has joined forces with Rena Priest, Amy Romer, and Lauren Eckert. “Together, we’ve been tackling a long-term collaborative project called Fish Outlaws with a grant from the National Geographic Society. It seeks to tell stories that, to us, are really symptomatic of this historical amnesia coupled with the still-existing and deeply racist policies.”

Colonial forces introduced unsustainable fishing methods while creating legislation prohibiting Indigenous nations from fishing. The Federal Fisheries Act, first introduced in 1857, is one of the oldest pieces of Canadian legislation to exist and has repeatedly been used by the Department of Fisheries to argue “that Aboriginal rights to fish had been extinguished,” according to Dr. Reid.

Reid felt it is important to have “a remembering of so-called ‘outlaw fishing’ as well as a remembering of what Indigenous fisheries are and could be for a more socially and ecologically just future.” Fish Outlaws is a multimedia project “documenting the criminalization and dispossession of Indigenous fisheries around the Salish Sea.” The team draws on archival research and community consultation to uncover these stories. 

During her post doctoral research, Reid interviewed close to 50 elders “to hear from them how access to fishing and thereby their relationships with salmon have changed and continue to change. And to learn about fishing ethics that for long have kept us in good relations with salmon.” 

Many of the fishing methods used by Indigenous fishers and subsequently outlawed because of their misuse by colonial forces are now being brought back. For instance, “Fish traps offer a prime example of the real potential of gear misuse.” Salmon canning corporations adopted the highly efficient practice and used it to overharvest since the late 1800s. “This eventually led to traps being banned from Oregon all the way up to Alaska throughout the mid 1900s. But now we see colonial governments turning towards reviving these traps and evaluating the feasibility of them for selective harvest,” said Reid.  

“As we watch this tremendous uptick in interest in Indigenous ways of knowing and being here where many of us now live. We’re beginning to see greater acceptance for and interest in these methods and approaches.” 

However, Reid noted before bringing these methods back, it is important to consider the specific places, contexts, and ecological changes exacerbated by colonization. The conditions are not the same as when these methods were first implemented. Adapting to new situations may include developing new indicators to know when and where to fish. She encouraged the resurgence of Indigenous fisheries’ and the prioritization of passing down knowledge from generation to generation. 

For more information on Dr. Reid’s work visit the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries’ website at www.cif.fish.