Since time immemorial, the Hupacasath First Nation (HFN) has lived in harmony with and in many ways dependent on its relationship with the area’s surrounding waterways and open sea access. Fishing is a traditional part of the HFN lifestyle, as a food source and as an integral part of its cultural identity. Since ancient times the Hupacasath First Nation have ventured out onto the sea, including as active whalers, both to feed their families and to honor their ongoing spiritual commitment to the area’s land and sea.
In the 21st Century that timeless link to the sea and to the numerous creatures native to the region’s water courses is as strong and significant as it ever was. But recognizing it belongs to a modern and integrated community HFN has developed strong ties with the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) the federal entity charged with administering Canada’s ocean environment.
One of the most visible components of this commitment is the HFN’s active participation in the Sproat and Stamp River Sockeye and Chinook Enumeration Projects. Tasked with determining the population densities and health of indigenous food fish populations, the Project relied strongly on the skills and experience of the Hupacasath First Nation’s participants to successfully complete an inventory of fish stocks, a project the government had envisioned would take up to four years to complete by using outside technicians and crews.
In a letter from DFO South Coast Stock Assessment, states that HFN input were invaluable to the project. “Hupacasath may be the first First Nations group within British Columbia that manages a core assessment project that has a direct impact on the management of salmon fisheries within their territories,” the letter states.
“The weekly enumeration and biological sampling carried out by the Hupacasath directly impacts all harvesting opportunities by Commercial, Recreational and First Nations and conservation.”
The Enumeration Project was entrusted to the HFN in large part due to the community’s more than 20 years of experience working as part of similar projects undertaken in the nearby Stamp and Sproat Rivers. This hands-on knowledge provided DFO with a pool of skilled and experienced workers ideal for the fish count and analysis. The use of new technologies and techniques to conduct the enumeration, such as high definition television systems, computer technology to collect real time data streams and the deployment of specially designed portable collection devices was something that concerned the DFO designers, as embracing these new methods might be too onerous a task for the HFN participants.
The government’s concerns proved entirely unfounded. “Despite all of these changes and enhancements your staff stepped up and excelled,” the letter states. “What we thought would take 3 or 4 years we at DFO were able to reduce our efforts on these projects in year 1 approximately 25% and this year we have exceeded our expectations.”
As integral a part of the region as the forests and creatures that evolved there, the Hupacasath First Nation have proven time and again their resilience and adaptability in playing active, positive roles in the area of Vancouver Island they have traditionally called home.