B.C. First Nations receive big federal dollars for Great Bear Sea conservation

Click to play video: 'Ottawa announces up to $800M for Indigenous-led conservation projects'
Ottawa announces up to $800M for Indigenous-led conservation projects
As Canada hosts the COP15 biological diversity conference in Montreal -- the prime minister is announcing major funding for an Indigenous-led conservation partnership. The federal government is providing up to $800 million to support four major projects across the country -- covering almost a million square kilometres – Dec 7, 2022

The federal government providing $800 million in funding over seven years to four Indigenous-led conservation initiatives, including one in British Columbia.

A portion of the funds announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday will support 17 First Nations in developing a long-term conservation finance model for the Great Bear Sea initiative.

The initiative aims to protect the Great Bear Sea’s ecosystems, create thousands of jobs, support sustainable local economies, and strengthen Indigenous governance, according to Coastal First Nations.

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“This is not just for the benefit of our nations, it’s for everyone,” Coastal First Nations president and Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett told Global News.

“Our experience with the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement has allowed us to protect six million hectares of the ancient temperate rainforest, so we expect that we’re going to be able to do so much for the ocean.”

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Click to play video: 'Kitasu Bay declared new marine protected area'
Kitasu Bay declared new marine protected area

The Great Bear Sea hugs the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet, stretching 64,000 square kilometres from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Alaska. Its dark waters are home to spectacular marine life, including kelp forests, wild salmon, cod, halibut, seals, whales and dolphins, and have sustained local First Nations since time immemorial.

Remarkably little of the sea, however, is protected by the federal government, and in June, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation has declared its own Marine Protected Area in Gitdisdzu Lugyeks, or Kitasu Bay, which covers 33.5-square kilometres near Laredo Sound.

“We know the threats we’re seeing with the climate crisis and our nations are on the frontlines,” Slett said, speaking from the COP15 UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal.

“This is so important to move forward and it’s so important that it be Indigenous-led.”

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The $800 million will support projects covering nearly 1 million square kilometres of land and water.

The federal government said it will help Canada achieve its target of conserving 25 per cent of the country’s land and water by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030. The funds are meant to help leverage third-party investments that contribute to those goals and advance reconciliation, states a Wednesday news release.

“Communities have been clear, safeguarding lands and waters will help build a strong future for generations to come,” Trudeau said at the Montreal summit.

“As a government, our role is to listen and support that vision.”

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It’s not yet clear how much of the funds will go to the Great Bear Sea initiative. Other funded projects include the Hudson Bay Lowlands in Ontario, the Qikiqtani Region in Nunavut, and the coastline of Western Hudson Bay and southwestern James Bay.

Slett said the Great Bear Sea conservation finance model will mirror the model developed to protect the Great Bear Rainforest in 2007. That model brought First Nations, stakeholders, governments and the philanthropic community together to protect the land, and has since been adapted to support large-scale initiatives around the world.

Indigenous peoples don’t separate the land and the water, Slett explained. The new funds, therefore, bring First Nations-led efforts to protect the complete ecosystem “to the next step,” and recognize the hard work communities have been doing for decades on their own.

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