Brandy Mayes, lands operations manager with Kwanlin Dün First Nation, poses for a photo after talking to media at the Yukon River Panel 2019 pre-season meeting in Whitehorse on April 9. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Numbers aren’t everything when it comes to chinook salmon, KDFN lands operation manager says

Brandy Mayes says the value of the fish and the teachings surrounding their harvest can’t be measured

Numbers aren’t everything when it comes to chinook salmon – officials should also consider species’ larger value and meaning to Indigenous people when discussing management and conservation, according to Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s (KDFN) land operations manager.

However, Brandy Mayes told the News, that isn’t happening.

She was among the attendees of the Yukon River Panel’s 2019 pre-season meeting at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre earlier this week. The panel, which consists of officials from both Alaska and the Yukon, meets twice a year to discuss chinook salmon management strategies and outcomes, among other things.

But while Yukon First Nations attend and participate in the meetings, Mayes said in an April 9 interview – one of the days the panel’s meeting was open to the public — that she thinks there’s still a gap between how Yukon First Nations and the panel view the fish.

“Everybody gets drawn into, like, the numbers and the scientific data and we always talk about the First Nations as part of this and subsistence fisheries … but there’s so much value behind the traditional knowledge and the values that fishing salmon teach our people and how important that is, is not being fed into this process,” she said.

“That’s the only part I really find frustrating, we have to come up with some way to make that work … I mean, people talk about (the values and teachings) but it’s not part of how the panel makes their decisions, really.”

While the number of fish is quantifiable, Mayes said that value that the fish hold isn’t something that can be empirically measured, and it’s not just about chinook as a food source — it’s also about how the fish are caught, and the lessons and skills that surround harvesting.

“There’s lots of cultural teachings around (fishing), so not being able to actually fish the fish is … taking away some of the value around what it is to actually harvest your own salmon,” she said.

“So, I mean, bringing it in and cutting it up and drying it, the process is one thing, and distributing it and the respect around that is one thing, but to actually be able to harvest your own fish in your own river and the whole practice that goes (with it), setting up camp and getting ready and pulling the nets and resetting the nets and that process is quite important too.”

The majority of KDFN citizens have not fished for years now, Mayes said, in part due to low chinook numbers — the runs over the past five years have averaged about 73,000 Canadian-origin fish, compared to historical runs of about 158,000 — as well as the amount of time, money and effort it takes to set up and maintain a fish camp.

KDFN is also in a unique position because, as a First Nation primarily based in an urban centre with several grocery stores, its citizens don’t feel the same pressures in regards to chinook as a food source the way First Nations citizens in more remote communities might, Mayes said.

“It’s not that we don’t want to take fish and that we don’t want to keep harvesting. But now, it’s an expensive process for a lot of our people. It’s hard work, (and) trying to pass down those traditions to new generations is hard because there’s not as many people fishing…

“But that being said, we still want to keep that culture alive within our communities, with our citizens, to understand what salmon meant to us and that used to be everything, it was our way of life, it was survival. It was life.”

KDFN is hoping to set up a cultural camp this summer to help address that, Mayes said, but whether participants will actually be able to catch any fish is still up in the air. Like some other Yukon First Nations, KDFN has ordered in salmon in the past to help make up for what its citizens no longer fish out of the Yukon River; last year, it bought 1,200 lbs, Mayes said, mostly to distribute to elders.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is,” she said.

“I hear stories from our elders – the water was red (with chinook) and you could walk across the river on their backs, there were so many,” she added.

“… I remember my grandmother saying that it was (scary) because it looked like blood in the water … But you don’t see that. You’re lucky if you can see a few of them really.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Medical lab technologist Angela Jantz receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Whitehorse hospital on Jan. 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Online booking system for Moderna vaccine opens as mobile teams prepare to visit communities

“The goal is to protect everyone and stop the spread of COVID-19”

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton won’t be runing for re-election. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mayo-Tatchun MLA won’t run for re-election

Liberal MLA Don Hutton won’t be running for re-election. A former wildland… Continue reading

Large quantities of a substance believed to be cocaine, a large amount of cash, several cells phones and a vehicle were all seized after RCMP searched a Whistle Bend home on Jan. 6. (Photo courtesy RCMP)
Seven arrested after drug trafficking search

RCMP seized drugs, money from Whistle Bend residence on Jan. 6

Most Read