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She is fighting a lonely battle


Steve Heinrichs gives Kwitzel Tatel a peace lamp as a symbol of support, while Anthony Hall, who has written up her case, is given a jar of jam to represent “Mennonite food.

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July 14, 2012
-Dick Benner

Vancouver, B.C. —She wept as she told her gripping story of being criminalized by the Canadian government for exercising her indigenous rights to fish from the Fraser River.  And she drummed a prayer for “indigenous” Mennonites attending the overflow Sacred Scripture in Invaded Space workshop on Friday as she appealed for help in fighting a lonely battle in the courts for the past decade.

“How would you feel if you were denied preparation of your indigenous food,” Patricia Kelly, whose Coast Salish name is Kwitzel Tatel, asked, wearing her traditional headdress while detailing her arduous journey in her own self-defence through the provincial court in Chilliwack British Columbia.  She came to the workshop at the invitation of Professor Anthony J. Hall of the University of Lethbridge who has written up her case and has served as an expert witness in the many court appearances.  Hall was a guest of Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous Relations for Mennonite Church Canada.

Hall reported that Tatel has been made to pay a high price for continuing the heritage of her ancestors in British Columbia by exercising her Aboriginal right to fish even in the face of aggressive force by the RCMP and the federal Department of Fisheries. “The DFO has sided with the farmers of domesticated fish in coastal waters,” he said, “but these fish farms have been the sources of infestation and sickness for the wild salmon populations.”

Tatel reported that her fight for her right to fish has cost the court an estimated $1 million, not to mention the number of times the DFO have harassed her for what they charge is the illegal possession of fish.  DFO regulations confine fishing activities of Aboriginals from Thursday to Saturday, but in order to feed her family, from time to time, she has been forced to violate the code.

A single mother of two teenagers, Tatel has represented herself in the legal proceedings, now fighting, with the help of Hall, to win her case under a Rights and Title clause of King George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763 act. She has not received any monetary backing from federally or provincially-funded Aboriginal organizations who “unfortunately are sometimes subject to political manipulation by their paymasters,” according to Hall.

She could pay a $200 fine and be over her legal troubles, but she says such a cowardly act would betray her posterity by giving into to the Crown’s effort to deny and negate the viability of her people’s Aboriginal fishery.

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012