A group of activists occupied the office of Victoria riding Liberal candidate Nikki Macdonald Friday afternoon to protest fish farms on the B.C. coast and their impact on First Nations culture and the environment.
Tsastilqualus, a matriarch of Ma’amtagila First Nation, organized the demonstration with members of the environmental group Extinction Rebellion, known for shutting down bridges and blocking intersections to call attention to the climate crisis.
“The message is fish farms out now,” said Extinction Rebellion member Howard Breen.
“We support the matriarchs in their efforts to rid the coast of these fish farms that are bringing about the cascading collapse of B.C.’s biodiversity because of the impacts on wild salmon.”
A few dozen people gathered outside the office holding hand-painted signs of fish skeletons and waving Extinction Rebellion flags. Tsastilqualus and a small group engaged with staff inside, and three demonstrators stood on the roof holding a large, green banner that read: “Rebel for Life.”
Macdonald was out door-knocking in the final days of the campaign, her staff said.
Tsastilqualus said the three fish farms near her community in the Broughton Archipelago have decimated the salmon population.
“My people went two years without one sockeye fish. Last year we got a bit. This year, we’re out again,” she said. “It’s really, really important to worry about salmon because of all the other animal kingdoms that need it.”
On top of the environmental impact, salmon is an important part of First Nations culture, Tsastilqualus said.
“We’ve had salmon DNA in our bodies since time immemorial,” she said. “It’s in our dances, in our songs, everything. You remove sockeye, then who are we? We’re known as the salmon people.”
The group said they chose to demonstrate at Macdonald’s office because they’re frustrated with what they see as a lack of action by the Liberal government to put an end to fish farms.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised to transition salmon farming in B.C. from the oceans to closed containment systems by 2025.
But those protesting Friday don’t believe that promise is genuine. “We’ve heard this before. It’s all just regurgitated stuff from the last election,” Tsastilqualus said.
A statement by Nikki Macdonald’s office defended the Liberals’ commitment to preserving the salmon population.
“Over the past four years, our Liberal government has restored critical funding to fisheries protections gutted by the Harper government through the new Fisheries Act. When salmon reached critical levels this past spring, Minister [Jonathan] Wilkinson made the decision to drastically half fishing to allow stocks to revive.
“A re-elected Liberal government will continue to make serious investments in the protection of wild fish stocks.”
The Liberals pledged to work with B.C., First Nations and the fishing industry in the transition to a closed containment farming system.
Extinction Rebellion, which has chapters around the world, has held several rallies in Victoria in recent weeks to protest what it sees as government inaction to address climate change.
During a week of climate action in late September, the group occupied the intersection of Government and Belleville streets for eight hours. On Oct. 7, it closed the Johnson Street Bridge during rush hour.