SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2001

 

The most beautiful thing in the world

by Brigid Cumming

"I grew up picking abalone on the beaches of South Moresby," says Roy Jones Jr., CheeXial Taaiixou, Chief of Tanu Raven Wolf clan. "It's an essential part of our traditional food." Chief CheeXial and I are making our way through less traditional fare - hot Cajun-chicken Caesar salads at the Yakoun River Inn. It is mid-January and he has agreed to talk about abalone which is the focus of a multi-year multi-partner pilot project to restore stocks here on Haida Gwaii.

"Burnaby Narrows is the first place I remember in my life. It's the most beautiful spot in the world." Part of that beauty is the abundance of seafood, which the Haida harvested. Chief CheeXial has harvested abalone using traditional methods, but he is also an experienced diver.

"There aren't too many areas where I haven't dove," he says. His scuba-diving expeditions are placed firmly within the framework of a traditional harvest where you leave lots. He talked about diving in 1977 off Cumshewa. "We took 600-700 abalone that trip," he says, "but there was still lots." He came back a few days later and suddenly, "there was nothing left ... from Cumshewa village to Cumshewa Head, over a mile." A commercial harvester had gone through. "It was a real eye-opener for us."

"We traditionally gathered abalone for years, for centuries," Chief CheeXial explains, "and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans comes along and makes it illegal to spear. And then the resource disappears." He is emphatic that the decline in abalone is due to commercial over-exploitation and government mis-management.
"It was all based on extremely poor management ... As soon as the government sees that there's enough (of a resource), they lose control ... so much power is given to management." He is angry that the surviving stocks aren't better protected against poaching today.

"They're telling us we can't eat it today, yet they're not managing it, they're not protecting it."
Still, he thinks "the stocks are in better condition than (DFO) say they are." He hopes to see the food fishery re-opened.

Chief CheeXial reminds me that the first census of the Haida counted 18,000 people. "South Moresby was heavily populated by people who used the resource," he says. "Fisheries (DFO) has wiped out the resource, nobody else. These are things that have to be noted. The resource has to be returned to the people."

SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2001