Fish, Law, and Colonialism: The Legal Capture of Salmon in British Columbia

FISH, LAW, AND COLONIALISM: THE LEGAL, CAPTURE OF SALMON IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, University of Toronto Press, 2001

Posted: 6 Jul 2011 Last revised: 9 Nov 2011

See all articles by Douglas C. Harris

Douglas C. Harris

Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia

Date Written: 2001

Abstract

This is a study of the human conflict over fish in late nineteenth and early twentieth century British Columbia, and of how that conflict was shaped by law. Law, understood broadly to include both the legal forms of the Canadian state and those of Native peoples, defined and in part created both Native and state fisheries. When those fisheries clashed, one finds conflict between legal systems. When one fishery sought to replace the other, its laws had to replace the other. Thus, this is a study of law and colonialism, seen through a close analysis of the conflict over fish. Native fisheries and the web of regulation surrounding them preceded non-Native interest in British Columbia's fish. The fishery was not an open-access resource, but rather a commons, defined by entitlements, prohibitions and sanctions that allowed certain activity, proscribed others, permitted one group to catch fish at certain times in particular locations with particular technology, and prohibited others. The Canadian state denied the legitimacy and even the existence of Native fisheries law in imposing its law on the fishery. This study, based largely on government records and a secondary anthropological literature, describes the legal apparatus constructed by the Canadian state to reduce Native control of the fisheries in British Columbia through the creation, in law, of the "Indian food fishery". Law became a means of constructing a particular economic and social order that marginalized Native participation in the fishery and eliminated Native control. It was a "rhetoric of legitimation" that supported state domination, but also local resistance. Native peoples and their supporters used law, both Native and state law, to defend their fisheries. The history of the conflict over fish is the history of competing legal cultures, and the struggle on the Cowichan River and the Babine River over fish weirs reveals those cultures, constructed in opposition to each other. The study concludes by integrating the local conflicts over fish into a wider literature on law and colonialism, reflecting on the role of law in particular colonial settings.

Keywords: Salmon fisheries, Fishery law and legislation, British Columbia, History, Natives, Fishing

Suggested Citation

Harris, Douglas C., Fish, Law, and Colonialism: The Legal Capture of Salmon in British Columbia (2001). FISH, LAW, AND COLONIALISM: THE LEGAL, CAPTURE OF SALMON IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, University of Toronto Press, 2001, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1876036

Douglas C. Harris (Contact Author)

Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia ( email )

1822 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T1Z1
Canada

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