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 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 and Indigenous Laws related to the marine environment.



The Nanwakolas Council Marine Team works with the Nanwakolas 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 under way.

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 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 have supported the member First Nations to develop their own contemporary plans instead.



Each plan includes the vision of the individual 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 First Nations in making decisions about development proposals affecting the marine waters and environment that are referred to them for consideration.

The plans are reviewed and renewed from time to time to ensure they remain relevant and up to date on the most recent issues and opportunities from the member First Nations’ perspectives. The next review process will take place in 2024.

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

The Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan

The individual plans created by the 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 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.



Marine Planning Partnership

The Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) initiative is a partnership between the Province of British Columbia and 17 First Nations (including the Nanwakolas member First Nations). MaPP has developed and is implementing marine use plans for BC’s North Pacific Coast. Under MaPP, 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 Northern Vancouver Island (NVI) Plan with the provincial government. Marine stakeholders also provided advice and input to the planning process.

Since the NVI Marine Plan was approved by the member First Nations and signed in April 2015, the Nanwakolas marine team has been working with the member First Nations to support the implementation of 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 Guardian programs.


Activities currently taking place, consistent with the member First Nations’ priorities and the NVI Marine Plan, include research into ecosystem health (including the state of kelp and eelgrass), expansion of archaeological site inventories, the strengthening of the referrals process and marine tenure review, and greater presence on the water by Guardian programs. All of the member First Nations have 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, which is partially supported by the MaPP initiative.



Looking forward, the member First Nations, with support from the Nanwakolas marine team, will be amending and reviewing the NVI plan along with their own individual marine plans in order to identify successes, focus on future priorities, and review strategies.

MaPP is an important venue for First Nations to assert rights and title and focus on crucial marine issues. Building on the work of MaPP, additional marine co-governance initiatives are now under way, including the Oceans Reconciliation Framework Agreement and the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network.

Oceans Protection Plan

In 2018, Nanwakolas Council, on behalf of and at the direction of the 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 (OPP).

The Oceans Protection Plan is a collaborative effort between Canada and First Nations signatories to the Reconciliation Framework to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways while growing the economy. The OPP focuses on creating a world-leading marine safety system, protecting and restoring marine ecosystems, creating stronger partnerships between the federal government and Indigenous communities, and making scientifically sound decisions.

Within the OPP, Nanwakolas Council staff, on behalf of and at the direction of the member Nations, work collaboratively with 15 First Nations from the Northern Shelf Bioregion and several federal government agencies to implement OPP initiatives. These initiatives are wide-ranging but include:

·         Places of Refuge Planning

·         Proactive Vessel Management

·         Wrecked, Abandoned and Hazardous Vessel Management

·         Emergency Towing


·         Cumulative Effects of Marine Shipping


Read More About the MaPP Initiative

Marine Emergency Response Planning

Marine emergency preparedness and response planning is an important aspect of the work under the OPP. The Nanwakolas marine team has worked with each Nanwakolas member First Nation to develop response plans which address the First Nation’s roles and responsibilities, priority response areas, and other important information.

Workshops were held with each 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” or GRS.

These GRS and other response activities have been exercised yearly through collaboration with the West Coast Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). In addition, Guardians have received various levels of advanced training in marine response, search and rescue, environmental cleanup and shoreline survey techniques.

The marine team has also worked within the Northern Shelf Bioregion to develop a framework for collaborative response based on the principles of co-governance. This has led to the inclusion of member First Nations’ leadership sitting at the highest levels of Unified Command when dealing with a marine emergency. There are further efforts underway to develop a North Vancouver Island sub-regional plan, and to continue the co-management of all marine incidents in member First Nations’ territories.




Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network :

In addition to the OPP, under the Reconciliation Framework Agreement Nanwakolas Council, on behalf of and at the direction of the member First Nations, committed to the collaborative development of a marine protected area network. In 2023, a Network Action Plan was finalized by the tripartite governance partners – the government of Canada, the province of British Columbia, and 15 First Nations, including the Nanwakolas member First Nations.

Next steps include the finalization and implementation of new marine protected areas and the development of management plans for both new and existing marine protected areas. These management plans will be based on collaborative governance agreements between the three levels of government.

The MPA Network has been designed based on cultural and ecological conservation goals and with the consideration of the impacts on human well-being and livelihoods in mind. Additional details on the planning process, scientific background on the efficacy of MPAs, proposed network blueprint, economic and social impacts, and more can be found on the MPA Network website.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

Nanwakolas member Nations are also greatly interested in exploring Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (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.

On November 29th, 2021, the Mamalilikulla First Nation declared the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound) area of Knight Inlet, on the British Columbia Central Coast, an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). In February 2023, the marine portion of the IPCA was formally recognized as the first marine refuge designated in the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Areas Network planning process. Learn more about the Mamalilikulla IPCA here.