Taking care of the marine environment in ways that enhance the stewardship responsibilities of the Nanwakolas member First Nations, and reflect their governance, economy, cultural and human well-being objectives

Taking Care of the Marine Environment

Stewardship of the marine environment within the traditional areas of the Nanwakolas member First Nations requires information and knowledge about the state of the waters and the aquatic wildlife and plant life within them,  understanding what is changing and why, planning ahead for what needs to be done to keep them healthy, keeping a watchful eye on what is happening in the traditional areas, and upholding and protecting our Aboriginal rights related to the marine environment.

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The Nanwakolas Council Marine Team works with the member First Nations to support their goals and priorities in all these areas. Here are some of the current projects and activities that have been accomplished and are underway.

Member First Nations Marine Plans

First Nations have taken care of their marine environment for millennia, with governance, cultural, social and economic systems that both depended on and supported healthy marine ecosystems. This approach was reflected through protocols and decisions that ensured the use of the marine environment and resources for present and future generations.

These days, provincial and federal government departments with responsibility for marine environment resources and uses typically use formal written plans to describe their approach to management. Those plans have not always appropriately reflected the stewardship responsibilities and approach of First Nations, so the Nanwakolas Marine Team has supported the member First Nations to develop their own contemporary plans instead.

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Each plan includes the vision of the individual member First Nation for the marine waters and environment in its traditional area, its values, strategies for keeping the environment healthy, and directions about marine activities and uses of the marine waters and environment. The plans also prioritize activities such as the development of Guardian programs, marine-related training for the First Nation’s members, research, monitoring, communications, and the negotiation of governance agreements.

Among other things, these plans now assist the individual member First Nations in making decisions about development proposals affecting the marine waters and environment that are referred to them for consideration.

To READ MORE about individual member First Nation plans, visit their websites (please note that not all plans are publicly available).

The Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan

The individual plans created by the Nanwakolas member First Nations have also supported collaborative initiatives such as the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network, which was established in 2015.

After completing their individual plans, the member First Nations worked together on the Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan, a document reflecting the member First Nations’ collective vision, common values and teachings, and setting out principles for how marine management is to be conducted throughout their territories. That work, also supported by the Nanwakolas Marine Team, formed the foundation for the creation of the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network.

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North Vancouver Island Marine Plan

All of the work undertaken to complete both individual marine plans and the collective Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan led to the next step involving the Nanwakolas member First Nations: co-development with the provincial government of a broader plan for North Vancouver Island (NVI).

Under the Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP for short) the Nanwakolas Marine Team, guided by the member First Nations’ individual marine plans and the collective Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan, co-led the development of the NVI Plan with the provincial government. The views of third-party stakeholders like forestry companies and commercial marine operators were also gathered, with the final content of the NVI plan determined by Nanwakolas and the provincial government.

READ MORE about the NVI plan

Since the NVI Marine Plan approval by the member First Nations and its signing in April 2015, the Nanwakolas Marine Team and the member First Nations have been working together to implement its recommendations. The provincial government has committed to a shared decision-making process for plan implementation, and to help with core funding of First Nations through budget allocations that include the sale of carbon credits.

Activities taking place, consistent with the member First Nations’ priorities and the NVI Marine Plan, include researching and assessing shellfish aquaculture opportunities, research into ecosystem health, expansion of archaeological site inventories, assessment of commercial recreational opportunities, assessment of marine industry training needs for First Nations’ members, and greater use of Guardian programs. All of the member First Nations now have active Guardian programs operating through the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network, with many of the Guardians completing formal training qualifications through Vancouver Island University’s Stewardship Training Program.

READ MORE about activities taking place under the NVI plan

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Marine Protection and Conservation

As stewards of their traditional areas since time immemorial, the Nanwakolas member First Nations take a strong interest in marine protection and conservation activity by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and in having a relationship with those governments based on a clear understanding of and respect for the rights, interests and priorities of the First Nations as set out in their marine plans, the Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan, and the NVI Plan. Among other things, the member First Nations consider that, as a fundamental principle, decision-making about protection and conservation within their territories must be shared through co-governance agreements. The Nanwakolas Marine Team is working with the member First Nations’ to support that work, and to advance that principle.

The Marine Protected Areas Network Strategy

In 2018,  Nanwakolas Council, on behalf of and at the direction from  their member First Nations signed a Reconciliation Framework Agreement with the Government of Canada. The purpose of the Agreement is to support collaborative governance and management of the marine environment, for both federal government marine planning and protection programs, and for implementation of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan.

Under the Reconciliation Framework Agreement, the member First Nations committed to working with the federal government to collaborate in the Marine Protected Areas Network planning process, which may identify candidate marine areas for protection within the member First Nations’ territories. This process reflects a Strategy developed in 2015 by Canada and BC. The Nanwakolas Council is participating in this work to ensure its member Nation interests are incorporated into the Marine Protected Areas Network planning process with federal and provincial governments, other First Nation governments and stakeholder groups.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAS)

Nanwakolas member Nations are greatly interested in exploring IPCAs as alternatives to the more conventional marine protected areas created by federal and provincial governments. IPCAs are areas, both lands and waters, where First Nations have the primary co-governance role in protecting and conserving ecosystems while building sustainable local economies. Nanwakolas member Nations IPCAs have the potential for a holistic management approach that connects marine and land ecosystems.

IPCAs also offer the potential to better reflect a continued cultural connection to their territories. In addition, co-governance may be more easily negotiated and implemented through an IPCA.

The Nanwakolas Marine and Lands Teams are working together with interested member First Nations to develop a model and a work plan to identify key elements of IPCAs, such as designation models and resourcing requirements, and explore specific areas for potential designation.


Marine Safety, Shipping and Transportation

The Nanwakolas member First Nations want to see improved protection of the marine environment from devastating marine transportation incidents such as oil spills. This is being enabled under the Reconciliation Framework Agreement.

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Here are some of the current activities and work taking place with the support of the Nanwakolas Marine Team.

Marine Incident Response Plans

Nanwakolas Council is participating with other First Nations who signed the Reconciliation Framework Agreement and with the Government of Canada to develop marine incident response plans for North Vancouver Island. Preparedness and Response Plans are also being prepared with each member First Nation.  These plans will address First Nation roles and responsibilities, priority response areas, and other important information.

Areas of Concern and Geographic Response Strategies

Workshops were held with each Nanwakolas member First Nation to identify areas that would be of concern if threatened or affected by a marine incident (especially those involving oil or chemical products). Areas with cultural, food gathering, conservation and economic significance were mapped and ranked in order of protection priority.

For the high priority areas, field visits and expert advice has resulted in the generation of booming strategies, known as “Geographic Response Strategies.” If an incident occurs, it will be brought to the attention of incident response leaders by the affected First Nation to influence response strategies and tactics.

In 2021, the Nanwakolas member First Nations’ Guardians together with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation(WCMRC), began exercising these protection strategies. Through this collaboration and information sharing, there is an improved understanding of what needs protection and why, and what equipment and training is need to Nations to fulfill their responsibilities to protect these important places.


Places of Refuge Planning

Places of Refuge (PORs) are locations where disabled vessels may be directed for temporary anchorage while they are inspected or undergo necessary repairs to enable safe removal. The participation of member Nations in identification of PORs is important to ensure that sensitive areas can be avoided.

Proactive Vessel Management

An important part of the Ocean Protection Plan is developing a pilot project to test the ability of the shipping industry to voluntarily improve shipping safety. Nanwakolas Council is participating in such a pilot with Central Coast First Nations to encourage voluntary measures for articulated tug and barge vessels (ATBs) transporting petroleum products through the Inside Passage from Alaska to Seattle, Washington.

One such ATB, the Nathan E. Stewart, ran aground in Heiltsuk Territory in 2018 and drew significant attention to safety and response measures and risks associated with ATBs from First Nation perspectives. The pilot project discussion is currently focused on the American industry, identifying high risk areas that should be avoided, as well as improved notification and pilot waiver procedures.

Vessels of Concern

Both Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have responsibilities for identification, risk assessment, and removal of abandoned and derelict vessels in the marine environment.

These “Vessels of Concern” or VOCs are found throughout member Nation territories, and many have been mapped and documented by member Nation guardians. The VOC program is a key component of collaboratively implementing the Ocean Protection Plan through the Reconciliation Framework Agreement with Canada.

The Nanwakolas Marine Team is in constant communication with federal government officials to reinforce the concerns and the intended role of the member Nation Guardian programs in VOC identification, the priority for removal, and in monitoring of removal and clean-up activities.