Nuu-chah-nulth Nation representatives are working with delegates from a number of Pacific coast First Nations in an effort to strengthen one another’s co-governance negotiations with Crown agencies on proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the Nations’ traditional territories.

“While MPAs are not First Nation creations, we can use them as anopportunity to protect what is important to us and can also work with DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] for co-governance,” said Kekinusuqs, Judith Sayers, President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature / World Commission on Protected Areas, MPAs are a ‘clearly defined geographical space recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.’

Under Canadian Law, an MPA designation protects defined marine areas from oil and gas exploration, fish bottom trawling and dumping. However, an MPA designation still allows for some types of activity to occur in them such as fishing, depending on the structure of the MPA.

In 2010, Canada agreed to an international target of conserving 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020 (as a participant in the Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity), and since then, 14 MPAs have been established in Canadian waters. Work on the designation of more proposed MPAs continues, one of which is a 133,000 square-kilometre area of interest offshore of west coast Vancouver Island.

On November 26 and 27, 2019, Nuu-chah-nulth representatives met with members of 16 First Nations and First Nations organizations in Nanaimo for a two-day MPA Co-Governance Workshop to discuss the Nations’ involvement in the managing of MPAs in their traditional territories. The objective of the workshop was to establish First Nations-determined standards and expectations for MPA co-governance.

“When First Nations have an opportunity to look at tools like MPAs through an Indigenous lens, without having to worry about government agendas, we can start to see the potential for how they can help with some of the many challenges our communities face, for instance, protecting valued marine habitats that are difficult to look after through conventional fisheries management measures,” said Eric Angel, Uu-a-thluk Program Manager and member of the workshop organizing team.

Over the course of the two-day workshop, attendees from First Nations including Ditidaht, Ahousaht, Pacheedaht, Metlakatla, Quatsino, Haida and others shared first-hand experiences with MPA governance processes (including culturally significant elements) and took part in breakout working groups that focused on five key elements of MPA co-governance: agreements, designations, management planning, operations and fiscal sustainability.

Workshop attendees noted that capacity was an over-arching theme across all of the breakout groups, and recommended a tool be developed to assess any First Nation’s readiness to participate in an MPA process (and to isolate areas where capacity building is required). The use of existing co-governance agreements between First Nations and Crown governments was identified as a valuable way of building on the experiences of others (for example, the SGaan Kinghlas – Bowie Seamount MPA Management Plan between the Haida Nation and Government of Canada), though members also noted that co-governance is largely uncharted water that requires continued learning and creativity.

“First Nations need to have a working relationship with DFO and ensure they recognize our territories and know they must work with us because of our title to lands and waters. First Nations must also have the capacity to negotiate agreements and have established standards and principles for co-governance,” said Sayers.

Uu-a-thluk has hired a Marine Steward Coordinator, Danielle Burrows, to support Nuu-chah-nulth Nations in the areas Sayers describes above. Burrows joined Uu-a-thluk in October 2019 and has focused on the planning of the MPA Co-Governance Workshop, as well as researching Indigenous co governance of MPAs. She will coordinate Nuu-chah-nulth input to DFO on the establishment of the MPA and will also assist with the MPA naming process between Nuu-chahnulth, Haida, Pacheedaht and Quatsino First Nations.

The next step is a gathering of Nuu-chah-nulth, Haida, Pacheedaht and Quatsino leaders and technical staff to discuss Indigenous co-governance of the proposed MPA off the west coast of Vancouver Island; the Oceans Dialogue Forum will take place on Haida Gwaii in May.