‘A perfect marriage’: 2 First Nations to gain park ranger authority on B.C.’s northwest coast

Click to play video: 'Pilot program expands role of First Nations B.C. parks watchmen'
Pilot program expands role of First Nations B.C. parks watchmen
A new pilot program will give First Nations parks watchmen in two coastal areas the same authority as Park Rangers. Kylie Stanton reports – Jun 2, 2022

In the lush forests and misty waters of British Columbia’s northwest coast, First Nations people have been keeping watch since time immemorial.

Their territories, part of which are now known as the Great Bear Rainforest, are home not only to their people but to all kinds of extraordinary wildlife, from spirit bears to breaching humpback whales.

For more than a decade, the Coastal Guardian Watchmen have patrolled its waters, documenting the health of ecosystems and watching for poachers and other illegal activity.

On Wednesday, some of those watchmen — from the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Nuxalk Nations — inked a historic deal with the provincial government to launch a pilot project that gives them all the authority of park rangers under the B.C. Park Act and Ecological Reserve Act.

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“We’ve been dreaming about this for probably the better part of 12 years,” said Kitasoo/Xai’xais Chief Doug Neasloss. “We have stewardship responsibilities as First Nations, the provincial government has stewardship responsibilities and so I think this is a perfect marriage.

“I think we’re going to end up with some of the best monitored, managed areas in all of the province.”

In Victoria, both Neasloss and B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said they hoped the memorandum of understanding carves a new path for partnership between the province and Indigenous nations and raises the bar for reconciliation.

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The Great Bear Rainforest, which has traditional areas known as Txalgiu, Tsee-Motsa, Waglisla, Klemdulxk, and Aweenak’ola, stretches 64,000 square kilometres from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Alaska. It is the largest coastal temperate rainforest left on Earth.

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The Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Nuxalk Nations collaboratively manage more than 40 protected areas in their territories, including Tweedsmuir Park, the Fiordland Conservancy, Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy and Kimsquit Estuary Conservancy.

“We’ve been doing this since 2010 so it means quite a lot to have some kind of legislative authority,” Coastal Guardian Watchman Ernie Tallio told Global News.

“We’re out all the time on our territories. We already do compliance checks in the valley and out in our waters, so this gives us a tool in our back pocket that we can use if need be.”

Last year, Gallio said his watchmen travelled more than 22,000 kilometres during patrols in the field season. The program has a regional stewardship focus, but each of its participating nations stewards its own territory according to its unique traditions.

Member nations include Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and the Council of the Haida Nation.

The Guardian Shared Compliance and Enforcement Pilot Project applies to Nuxalk and Kitasoo/Xai’xais guardians, and once up and running, will be the first of its kind collaboration in B.C.

“This is very important for us not only our communities but for the rest of First Nations, B.C. and all around Canada,” said guardian Victor Reece in an interview.

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“This is the first time that two nations are working together with B.C. parks to get a B.C. parks authority. For me personally, it is so amazing — I get to meet great people all through B.C. and B.C. parks.”

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