First Nations, a driving force in protecting Canada's oceans

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First Nations, a driving force in ocean protection in Canada

Russ Jones, (whose Haida name: is Nang Jingwas) Hereditary Chief of the Haida Nation, is in charge of marine planning at the Naida Nation Council.

“We need the ocean, the ocean needs us, and I'm glad people are starting to recognize that. For Frank Brown, Hereditary Chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation in British Columbia, like many Indigenous communities across Canada, IMPAC5 was an important opportunity to share their knowledge, experience and hopes for the future of the oceans.

Announcements from Ottawa, which multiplied at the Fifth International Congress on Marine Protected Areas, highlighted the importance of working with First Nations.

The announcement of an action plan for a network of marine protected areas is the completion of 18 years of work for the Heiltsuk First Nation. So we see this agreement as a beginning rather than an end, even though it's taken a lot of work to get there, says Frank Brown, Senior Advisor at the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

Frank Brown, Hereditary Chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation, at the IMPAC5 conference in Vancouver, February 9, 2023.

This joint management plan is a way of recognizing the importance of indigenous knowledge, as explained by Steven Guilbeault, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It's a way of doing things that is completely new and challenges the more traditional and colonial model, he says.

Achieving objectives of 30% protection by 2030, can only be done in close collaboration with indigenous peoples, he adds.

The federal government has also announced the creation of a new marine protected area off Vancouver Island, named Tang.ɢwan–ḥačxwiqak–Tsigis.

With colonization, the First Nations were dispossessed of their lands and territories. So with the establishment of marine protected areas, there is an opportunity to re-establish these connections and recognize them, says Haida First Nation Hereditary Chief Russ Jones.

For the past 30 years, he has been documenting his people's traditional knowledge of marine management in this region. Located on an archipelago, its people depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Indigenous representatives and leaders at the IMPAC5 conference in Vancouver, February 8, 2023.

We see that these resources are running out and there are endangered species. So we are contributing to ensure that future generations can enjoy the lifestyle we have, he says.

Russ Jones also stresses the importance of ensuring that the capacity and resources are available to implement these plans on the ground.

For the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, it is now inconceivable in the country to create a new conservation area without the participation of indigenous peoples. It's a way of doing things that is totally new and that challenges the slightly more traditional and colonial model, announces Steven Guilbeault.

This collaboration could inspire other nations around the world and demonstrate how Indigenous communities can work with other governments to preserve these critical areas. Because we know them most closely, says Frank Brown, Hereditary Chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

Between two IMPAC5 events, discussions are in full swing. Frank Brown and Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, Minister of Culture, Environment and Marine Resources and Head of Crafts of French Polynesia, talk about their experiences.

Frank Brown (left) and Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu (right), minister of Culture, Environment and Marine Resources, responsible for Crafts, in French Polynesia.

These two peoples are connected by the Pacific Ocean, but also by their knowledge of the territory. We've been here for two millennia and we've been here for millennia. We will still know how to be there for millennia, says Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu.

He says that rāhui, an ancestral practice, allows sustainable management of resources by restricting or prohibiting fishing. When we talk about marine protected areas in our country, no one knows what it is. When we talk about rāhui, people know what it is. Despite modernity, despite globalization, our roots matter.

During the closing ceremony, delegates from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Host First Nations and Federal Ministers Joyce Murray and Steven Guilbeault were asked to stand up one after the other, in order to imitate the movement of a wave. The movement symbolizes a wind of change.

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