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RoseAnne Archibald dip-netting for hatchery Coho salmon near Gold River, B.C. on Sept. 23.Wendy Stueck /The Globe and Mail

RoseAnne Archibald is standing in borrowed chest waders in a stream near Gold River, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island, ready to pounce.

She sweeps a wide-mouthed net in front of her and, in less than a minute, scoops up three coho salmon. The fish are quickly killed and placed in a cooler in a nearby truck, to be smoked at her request.

Beaming, Ms. Archibald splashes over to where Jerry Jack, a hereditary chief with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, is watching from the shore.

“You know what I loved about that, Chief?” Ms. Archibald asks him, water dripping from her boots. “That feeling of exercising your rights and nobody bothering you. DFO’s not breathing down your neck – you’re just fishing.”

Had anyone questioned her haul, Ms. Archibald would have been in the clear. The coho were hatchery fish, marked by clipped fins and designated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) as “excess to salmon spawning requirements” and therefore available for limited capture. Ms. Archibald, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, also had a green light from Indigenous authorities: She was in B.C. at the invitation of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, to which the Mowachaht/Muchalaht belong, and as Mr. Jack’s guest.

But the September trip was more than a social call. It was a symbolic journey, meant to highlight Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights and emphasize issues Ms. Archibald raised earlier in the month in Nova Scotia.

On that trip, she witnessed a confrontation between Mi’kmaq fishing boats and DFO officials, later calling on the federal government to stop what she described as intimidation and harassment of First Nations fishermen.

In B.C., she raised similar concerns.

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht are part of a group of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations that have waged a court battle over fishing rights since 2003.Wendy Stueck /The Globe and Mail

“Both the West Coast and the East Coast [First Nations] are asking for the same thing – which is to have their inherent and treaty rights to their fishery honoured, implemented and respected by the federal government,” Ms. Archibald told The Globe and Mail.

“Particularly, both coasts have complained about the intimidation, harassment and disrespect the DFO shows their people when they are exercising their inherent and treaty rights.

“So the link for me was to see what the differences and similarities were in the fisheries … and to begin to connect the two coasts, so we can figure out a common path together.”

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht are part of a group of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations that have waged a court battle over fishing rights since 2003. In April, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld parts of a 2018 B.C. Supreme Court decision that found Canada had infringed on their rights and told the federal government to fix the problems.

But that fix is still to come, leaving First Nations fishermen on the sidelines of commercial fisheries within their territories, Mr. Jack says.

“DFO allows 100 gillnetters with drums and 100-fathom nets [for non-Indigenous fishermen] – and DFO only allows us 50-fathom nets, and we’ve got to hand them,” Mr. Jack said, meaning the nets have to be hauled out by hand.

And he backed Ms. Archibald’s comment about harassment, saying he and other First Nations fishermen have been frustrated by what appears to be arbitrary enforcement by DFO officials.

“We are the ones they check – they don’t check the sport fishermen,” he said.

Asked about allegations of intimidation and harassment of First Nations fishermen, the DFO said it has more than 600 highly trained officers who work with “objectivity, professionalism and respect” to monitor fishing activity for compliance with the Fisheries Act.

“On-the-water patrols, including gear inspections, are operations that occur all across the country. Officers take a progressive approach, including education, issuing warnings and laying charges, and as always, using discretion as they take many situational factors into consideration,” spokesman Barre Campbell said in an e-mail, adding that the DFO is committed to working with all parties to ensure safe and sustainable fisheries.

Ms. Archibald, a member of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation, was elected AFN National Chief in July – the first woman to hold the position. The AFN is a national group that advocates on behalf of First Nations in areas such as health, fisheries and residential schools. She is expected to be in Kamloops on Thursday to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir. In May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that the remains of at least 215 children had been located on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, casting a renewed spotlight on the legacy of residential schools.

As of Tuesday, the Liberals – returned to office with another minority – had not named a new fisheries minister. Ms. Archibald’s Nova Scotia trip took place in early September, before the federal election, which saw former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan lose her Nova Scotia seat.

Asked what she hopes to see from a new minister, Ms. Archibald said she wants increased recognition of Indigenous rights – on both coasts.

“It’s really about finding that respectful path forward,” she said. “The DFO, as a department, answers to the minister. The minister is in charge of that department and has to be able to direct them to have more respectful relationships with First Nations.”

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