Q&A with Murray Ned: Save the fish. Save the people

Semá:th First Nation councillor Murray Ned shares his thoughts on salmon and their intersection with Indigenous rights and title

By Grace Kennedy | October 27, 2021 |5:15 am

Earlier this month, we told you about the Semá:th First Nation’s foray into sonar imaging, and the hope that more accurate salmon counts can preserve a species in crisis. Among those we spoke to for that story was Murray Ned, a councillor for the Semá:th First Nation and executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance. He shared his involvement with the sonar project and his perspective on the relationship between Indigenous people and salmon.

Today, we’re taking a deeper dive into our interview with Ned and his perspective on his First Nation’s right and obligation to manage and preserve the salmon fishery.

Murray Ned: “We’ve always had this inherent obligation to look after resources within our territories. But we were displaced from that 150 years ago, when governments were established, the Fisheries Act, the Indian Act, were established to not only manage the resources within our territories, but manage Indians, manage First Nations. So if you can imagine being displaced from obligations for a year, and not doing anything about it, just fast forward 150 years. Think about people that within their blood, they always knew they had that obligation, but they took it away. And now you’ve got to figure out a way forward to make sure that these fish, the water, are going to be in a good place for future generations.

“We always say it was an inherent obligation, there was a right and title to these areas. But we didn’t occupy, we didn’t implement. So through the [Semá:th First Nation’s 2017] declaration, that’s sort of where we get our members’ guidance from our leadership to say, this is what needs to be done. And let’s just go do it.”

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FVC: I wanted to go back to what you were saying about rights and title, because it’s very similar to something I heard from Ashley Doyle with the Kwantlen First Nation, that managing the salmon fishery is a way of implementing your rights and title. How do you see the connection between those two ideas?

Ned: “I’m going to relate this to Sumas Lake. So what’s left of the lake today is basically a small tributary. It’s the Sumas River. And if you look at that river, and you follow it through to its watershed, it’ll go across the border—I’m at home, so I’m going to point across, to the south me is the border. It ends up being a small creek, probably no wider than my kitchen table I’m sitting out today… And that’s what we deem our right and title to, that tributary, what’s left of [the lake]… We have not only a right, but an obligation to maintain what’s in the territory with the resources.

“I think it’s just the interconnection, we have Semá:th tribe. We recognize that we are part of the Stó:lō, which is 24 nations. And we have traditional territory that we’ve outlined both within the Stó:lō territory as well as what we would deem within the Semá:th territory, also recognizing we’re associated with a much larger group, which is the Coast Salish nations. Not just nations on the Canadian side, but there’s a number of tribes south of the border that we are associated with. And that’s been our family for forever, right? So we’ve always recognized the importance of the territories, and trying to work together whenever we can as nations.”

FVC: I wanted to touch on the concept of “seven generations” that’s in the latest Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance report. It talks about managing the salmon for seven generations into the future. Is that a principle you guys are using with your sonar project?

Ned: “I kind of smile a little bit, because I can’t even relate to seven generations because of the crisis right now. What I know, from the fish and the history in the territory, I can relate back about three or four generations. And perhaps that’s because we’ve lost our oral history over a period of time and the ability to transfer that knowledge, that experience over an entire seven generations… I guess I have a bit of a challenge trying to relate to seven generations because of the crisis situation and the immediacy of trying to rectify the issue now, because it took four decades for the fishery to be depleted from three days a week for fishing all year, to where we’re measuring in hours. Four decades… So that’s where I see this urgency to really try and get something done. I’ve probably got about nine years of work left in me before I retire. And you know that too starts to really put the pressure on making an impact and doing something that’s going to really be lasting.

“It’s not going to span seven generations, because I’m not going to live [that long]. But everybody wants to make their mark in life, as far as making the impact. And in this case, it’s really about if we can save the fish, then we can save our people. Because we’re that closely connected. I truly believe that when we’re no longer able to fish, we’re no longer able to connect either to the tributary within our territory, the former Lake, or the Fraser River and be able to practice that fishery or culture will die. That’s how significant that will be. That’s how significant fish are to our people.”

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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