We recently sat down with Corbin Greening to discuss the Kiel Harvest.

Where is Kiel?

Kiel is a 1 hour boat ride by speed boat south of Hartley Bay. It is on Princess Royal Island, south of the South-East corner of Gil Island and East of Ashdown Island.

What was the purpose of the trip you took there?

Kiel is the spring harvest camp of the Gitga’at. We do all kinds of harvesting and food processing, including ła’ask (seaweed), txaw (halibut), uula (seal), ‘yaans (chiton), and ts’ak (Chinese Slipper chiton). Many people take time off work to go to Kiel to get our traditional foods, while others spend a month or more there because it’s a primary food source.

How does the process work?

People are very busy harvesting and processing txaw and ła’ask. To catch txaw, you can jig using a single line or set fishing gear known as a long line, which has many hooks and can catch many halibut. Most people use a long line to get as try to get as many halibut as their family can process. After we catch the halibut we thinly slice the meat and dry it in the sun or above the stove in our cabins. This process takes a few days. We call the dried fish wooks. The wooks lasts a very long time so we have plenty of fish to eat throughout the year.

To harvest ła’ask, we take a boat to rocky shores at low tide and pick it off of the rocks. It grows back pretty quickly, so you can go out a couple of days later for more. We take it back to Kiel and dry it on racks or on rocks during sunny, hot days. If it’s raining, we have to freeze it or keep it submerged in the seawater so it doesn’t go bad. After it has dried, you can eat it. Some people will press it into dense cakes to store it in a smaller space, which is what the old people used to do.

Sometimes we work all day long, but some days, especially when the weather is bad, we do a lot of visiting and drinking tea.

How do current laws and regulations affect fishing in the area?

Our Aboriginal Rights allow Gitga’at people to harvest food resources in the area. So long as the populations of the plants and animals that we harvest for food aren’t threatened, then we are able to harvest them. It is our right to harvest and manage these resources. Unfortunately, mismanagement and poaching of Bil’haa (Abalone) has threatened the species, and our Aboriginal Right to harvest Bil’haa for food has been restricted, making it illegal to get it. Gitga’at people have been carefully managing this population, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has not recognized our expertise and data. In the future, Gitga’at First Nation hopes to be able to take a greater role in managing this important species.

Will anything change once the treaty is in place?

Possibly. The biggest change in Kiel could be related to fishing, but right now, we don’t know because the DFO has been reluctant to negotiate a chapter on fishing that recognizes the current state of our Aboriginal Rights. Our Aboriginal Rights have progressed a lot recently, and the Gitga’at Treaty Team believes that we have a Right to a share of the decision making regarding our ocean resources, including populations that are commercially valuable. The Gitga’at Treaty Team is pushing hard for the DFO to meet current legal standards at the Treaty negotiation table. Until such time as the DFO acknowledges the current legal standards, I can’t be sure about this question as it relates to fish.

Outside of Fishing, Kiel is a very important dwelling location and harvesting area. The Treaty Team recognizes the importance of Kiel, and is negotiating for the fullest expression of maintaining our way of life in the area.

How was your trip?

It was great. Working in an office can be busy and stressful, but the work in Kiel is a breath of fresh air. Everyone is working hard, and it’s really fun to help out and visit people. Gitga’at people seem to be in a great mood while we are there. I really hope to be able to make it back next year for a week or more. I recommend all Gitga’at people to participate in the harvesting and learn about the territory near Kiel.