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Making the Connection

Ha-ma-yas Lands Referrals Waters

Visitors hosted in the Nanwakolas First Nations’ territories by the Guardians are awed and inspired by seeing what’s happening out on the land and water.

Between October 1 and 4 this year, a privileged group of individuals from the provincial government, Tides Canada and the Hakai Institute toured parts of northern Vancouver Island accompanied by Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network Guardians, and staff from Nanwakolas Council and the Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) among others.

It’s the second year a field visit like this has been organized and funded by MaPP. Last year, host Mamalilikulla Chief Richard Sumner reflected afterwards: “When you see for yourself what it is you and everyone else is working for, it switches on the light. There’s no better way to achieve that. Being out there physically-seeing first-hand what you’ve heard about but only imagined-it really brings the stories home in a good way. Even I still get blown away by what is being seen and discovered here when I get the chance to come out like this.”

After such a good experience with the first field trip, it wasn’t difficult to entice people out for a second trip in 2018. In all, twenty-one MaPP and Nanwakolas staff and visitors enjoyed four great days out on the water and land in the heart of the First Nations’ territories, learning about the work, the challenges-and perhaps most important of all, each other.

Making good goals come to life

The 2015 North Vancouver Island (NVI) Marine Plan, developed collaboratively by First Nations and provincial government staff with MaPP, helps guide marine management in the region. Implementation of the NVI Plan is an ongoing work in progress for everyone involved. But the plan alone isn’t enough, notes Barb Dinning, former MaPP NVI Plan coordinator and now a marine planner and GIS analyst for Nanwakolas Council.

Barb has been on both field trips, and remarks: “You can read a million words on paper but it isn’t the same as being out there yourself.” It’s important to get the people who make the decisions out into the territories, she says. “Then they see and understand how their decisions have real impacts for the territories and the First Nations who take care of them.”

Showing and sharing

The 2018 schedule was ambitious, so the visitors were divided into two smaller groups to make the most of the trip. One group visited the Tlowitsis shellfish aquaculture pilot project at Port Neville, with Guardian Gina Thomas and aquaculture expert Don Tillapaugh. Tlowitsis are now more than halfway to completing their two-year project, the goal of which is to assess shellfish aquaculture potential in the area. By growing blue mussels, scallops and oysters for two years, Tlowitsis will be able to determine their viability for commercial development.

The other group, which included provincial government staff from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), visited the Salmon River estuary near Sayward with restoration consultant Tim Clermont. MaPP NVI planning assistant Josie Byington accompanied that group: “We paddled around in kayaks, which allowed us to get up close and personal with the estuary. There has been a lot of log-handling action there. Tim was able to describe the things that could be done to help restore damage from that kind of activity. For example, planting sedge and creating wooden structures using alder poles and willow stakes with willow and alder branches woven through is a natural way to reinforce eroding banks.”

The groups also had a tour of a Wildlife Management Area at Salmon River, as well as archaeological sites and forest activity areas. In between tours, the group was given presentations on ecosystem-based management (EBM) indicator monitoring for ocean health, focussing on a kelp and eelgrass study that has been under way for a year in partnership between MaPP, Nanwakolas and the Hakai Institute (they later visited the kelp beds being studied for the project) and enjoyed an evening of stories and insights from the previous season’s work from the Guardians. “That was a lovely session,” remarks Josie. “The pride in the work just shone through. It was very inspiring to the visitors.”

Connecting the dots

After the 2017 field trip, provincial official Andy Witt, the provincial government’s co-lead for the NVI Marine Plan process, told MaPP afterwards: “It was a great opportunity to explore this amazing landscape and meet the people who live, work and play there. Having them share their passion and vision with us really helped to gain perspective on the responsibilities and opportunities that come with implementing the marine plan for the area.”

The value of these field trips is immense, agrees both Josie and Barb. “We had provincial Natural Resource Officers or NROs with us, responsible for compliance,” says Barb. “After spending time with the First Nations on board, they are very keen to work with the Guardians. We also had provincial training officers as well, who could see the opportunities for supporting the Guardians with training to help with this work.”

Josie describes a visit to a sensitive archaeological site that was a real eye-opener for the NROs. “There’s a small licensed commercial operation there, but there was also a lot of damage on the site.” The forest tour also revealed the extent of damage being caused by industrial activity: “That was really interesting to the FLNRORD folks. Later they did a presentation on opportunities for the Guardians to do compliance and enforcement training with FLNRORD, and that was very helpful as well.”

Decision-makers in Victoria also realize just what is involved in the Guardians’ work-and how valuable it is-when they get confronted by the sheer size of the territories. “People are quite amazed how vast they are, and how complex it is to patrol and monitor them,” says Barb. “They really start to appreciate how much value the Guardians contribute to taking care of these areas. And that’s despite the challenges of the size of the territories, the weather, and the tides they have to deal with constantly!”

“It’s a very powerful way to make a case,” she adds. Josie couldn’t agree more: “Just getting in a boat with the Guardians and seeing these places with them reconnects people who otherwise spend most of their time at a desk far away and can’t really know what it’s like and what is going on. It really inspires people, and it has an invaluable snowball effect-everyone takes this experience away and tells others they work with about what they have seen and want to do now.”

More in the future

MaPP staff hope these field trips will become annual events. “Some of the best conversations take place when we are all in a car or small boat together heading to Telegraph Cove or New Vancouver,” says Josie. “The faces get put to names, we all learn a lot about each other. The “who is who” comes to life, and no-one ever forgets that. They take it back home with them. It makes such a difference.”