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Reconciliation Through Science


An innovative Indigenous-led science partnership led by Nanwakolas will look for ways to combat threats to wild salmon posed by climate change and forest management

The Nanwakolas Council and the Tlowitsis, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, Mamalilikulla and K’ómoks First Nations have begun work with the Hakai Institute and other expert advisers on the Nanwakolas 50 Watersheds Project, a science partnership that will develop tools to address the threats posed by climate change and forest management on salmon populations and their habitat in the territories of these Nanwakolas member First Nations.

“Salmon are cornerstone cultural species for First Nations,” observes Nanwakolas President Dallas Smith. “Their survival and ability to flourish in the face of climate change, human resource use practices, and other threats to their wellbeing is among the highest priorities for the First Nations. Utilizing the wealth of age-old place-based Indigenous knowledge and methodologies applied to understanding salmon and their environmental wellbeing in combination with other more recent scientific approaches and practices is a powerful way to not only develop models that will improve outcomes for salmon, but will support the just reclamation of Indigenous self-determination and stewardship decision-making authority.”

This three-year research project brings together a unique merger of Indigenous and other scientific approaches, working with partners who are committed not only to respectful collaboration but to reconciliation through science: uplifting Indigenous knowledge and methodologies that have been gathered and developed over thousands of years in combination with other more recent scientific approaches and practices for a strong, rich, and robust set of outcomes for the future wellbeing of salmon, the Indigenous partners in the project, and everyone in the region.

The First Nations have been stewards of their territories for millennia. Now, climate change and land use are causing long term shifts in stream temperatures, with important implications for salmon migration timing and survival. The Nanwakolas 50 Watersheds Project will cover climate-, forestry-, and environmental DNA-salmon research areas across fifty priority watersheds to help inform their future governance and management of their territories.

“The Nanwakolas member First Nations’ territories make up a vast and varied landscape, ranging from snowy mountains to rainy lowlands and everything in between,” remarks Tula Foundation Co-Director Eric Peterson. “This natural variability plays a big part in understanding where, when and how watersheds are vulnerable to climate change and forest management—which is where this project fits in, providing data and predictions to manage for vulnerability in the face of immense variability. That understanding will in turn support the development of policy, practices and regulation that will support the long-term survival and wellbeing of salmon in healthy ecosystems managed for sustainable resource use, human wellbeing and environmental health for all future generations to enjoy.”

$2.875 million in funding for the Nanwakolas 50 Watersheds Project has been provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. Nanwakolas Council and the Nanwakolas member First Nations are contributing significant in-kind contributions to the project. The Hakai Institute has also committed substantial in-kind support for the work, a contribution estimated to be worth $787,964. This contribution will add immense value to the process and results.

Expert advisers include scientists working with the University of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Coast Area Research Section of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, the British Columbia Ministry of Water, Lands and Resource Stewardship, Ecofish Research, Simon Fraser University, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Nature Trust.

The Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network Guardians are vital members of the fieldwork team for the project. The Guardians uphold the cultural context for the work, provide continuity across the research and different phases of the project, and contribute local expertise and deep knowledge of the territories and ecosystems to the work. This vital stewardship work on their part supports their Nations in decision-making based on sound, comprehensive information.

Watch this space for updates on the Nanwakolas 50 Watersheds Project work.