A small group of Indigenous women and children were cutting and cleaning fish at the side of the Fraser River on Saturday when they reportedly became victims of harassment and indecent exposure.
Seabird Island woman Stacy McNeil used Facebook to share details of the harrowing experience on the river.
After fishing for sockeye all day, McNeil, her two sons, a female family member and her son had set up a small fish camp when, according to McNeil’s post, a group of five sports fishermen anchored their boat in front of the camp and began having ‘loud, obnoxious conversations’ filled with expletives.
“So many sports fishermen come and park in the exact same spot or near it, and there’s always loud laughter,” McNeil said. “We see it quite often and I just thought, ‘oh here we go again.’ We just kept doing our work. But this [group] got more obnoxious.”
When the woman asked them to stop using foul language in front of the children, the men allegedly began urinating in front of the group, making lewd suggestions to the women and continuously exposing themselves.
“They had no fear in front of us women and children,” McNeil wrote.
The men also allegedly began a series of racist verbal attacks.
“According to them, we are dumb Indians who are stealing all of the fish, getting free fish and free gas,” wrote McNeil. “More and more words slandering our people and culture occurred.”
McNeil said this type of behaviour on the river encourages division between First Nations and sport fishers.
“It’s really challenging because we already know how a lot of sport fishermen feel about us and our traditional right to fish and feed our families,” she said. “Having stuff like that happen just exasperates that, and then we feel even more uncomfortable being out there.”
Eventually boats of Indigenous fishermen from the group’s Union Bar reserve came out, circling the offenders and asking them to move along, which they did – but only after exposing themselves to the group once again.
McNeil claims that the men were drinking and clearly intoxicated. She called RCMP and said she was told to send in the images she took of the alleged offenders.
Hope RCMP confirmed that there is an active investigation into the incident.
McNeil said incidents like this are bad for everyone who uses the river. She believes a good relationship between Indigenous and sport fishers is possible, but needs to be actively enforced.
“I did get a lot of comments and messages from people that are sport fishermen that are absolutely against this kind of behaviour, and we do have…relations with some sports fishermen and sturgeon fishermen that are well behaved,”she said. “But there’s some out there that I don’t think will ever comply with those things.”
“The biggest issue is that there is no enforcement on the water, there is never anybody out there checking on the fishermen, on the practices they’re using, on their behaviour. [The Department of Fisheries and Oceans] is not out there. No one is out there.”
“Enough is enough,” McNeil stated in her post. “Our fishing grounds are sacred…sports fisherman should not fish near our traditional sites. Stop the disrespect.”