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Traditional Feast Marks Beginning of Co-Governance Agreement for Great Bear Sea


Photo credit: Emilee Gilpin

Representative from three governments gathered at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art on February 9, 2023, to celebrate the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network Action Plan, which marks the beginning of an historic co-governance agreement that will result in the protection of over 30,000 sq kms of the Northern Shelf Bioregion, also known as the “Great Bear Sea.”

Officially announced on February 5, 2023 at the fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver, the MPA Network Action Plan in an Indigenous-led conservation effort to protect the rich ocean waters, expansive coastline, and aquatic vegetation of the Northern Shelf Bioregion, which is home to an abundance of marine species.

Located in the traditional territories of over a dozen distinct First Nations and stretching from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, this region supports over 64 species of fish, 70 species of marine birds, 30 species of marine mammals including orcas, sea otters, dolphins, and 52 species of invertebrates like shellfish, sea urchins, octopus, and squid.

The government representatives in attendance included Chief Marilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Nation and President of Coastal First Nations, the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Honourable Nathan Cullen, B.C. Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

After and incredible meal of traditional coastal foods served by Nuxalk chef Ximana(Nola Mack), the three representatives were asked to participate in a traditional blanketing ceremony led by the Squamish Nation hosts Chief Ian Campbell and Shamantsut Amanda Nahanee. Three witnesses to the ceremony were also called upon: Anette Gibbons, Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lori Halls, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship, and Meaghan Calcari-Campbell, Program Officer, Marine Conservation, Gordon ad Betty Moore Foundation.

Speaking to the co-governance agreement, Nanwakolas Board President Dallas Smith and Coastal First Nations CEO Christine Smith-Martin expressed the desire for all three parties to meaningfully engage with one another as the process moves forward, naming the blanketing ceremony as an intentional act for all the parties to remember their shared commitment to one another.

After the ceremony the witnesses were called to give their feedback and impressions, with all of them speaking to the honour they felt in being called to such an important task, and of feeling the depth of responsibility now being carried by all three parties into the implementation of the Action Plan.

The Action Plan is a model of collaborative governance that honours an Indigenous-led approach to conservation in the Great Bear Sea. It includes a proposed design for the network, and recommendations for potential designation tools, conservation objectives and implementation timelines for the protection of future sites. The process has been guided by Indigenous knowledge and robust science to inform the identification of sites and their ecological and cultural conservation objectives.

The Action Plan is also supported by the establishment of a sustainable conservation finance arrangement-using the internationally recognized Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) model to support long-term funding for ongoing network implementation, management and stewardship.