Artwork by Nicole Burton.
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By Alejandro Frid, Mike Reid, Muxvpenstista (Lena Collins), Smawn (Richard J. Hall), Ernest Mason, and Gord McGee.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

For us, Indigenous Peoples, conservation and protection of ecosystems has always been our primary objective; everything else flows from thatresponsibility. Yet colonization brought external forces that altered our territories and disrupted our traditional stewardship practices. Recently, however, Canadian society has been striving to become more conservation-minded and socially just, allowing opportunities that—if realized—would protect ecosystems while supporting our cultural revitalization. Among these opportunities is the ongoing development of a Marine Protected Area Network for Canada’s Northern Shelf Bioregion (MPAN-NSB). Our four First Nations have entered a governance partnership with 14 other First Nations, the Provincial Government of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada, to design and implement the MPAN-NSB. If realized, the spatial protections we propose would benefit marine ecosystems and uplift our cultures.

Our four First Nations—Haíłzaqv, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv—have always lived in our unceded territories of what is now known as the Central Coast of British Columbia. Our traditional laws obligate us to steward our territories, engaging in respectful and reciprocal relationships with other species. As a modern manifestation of those laws, in the 2000s each of our Nations developed marine use plans that paired Indigenous knowledge and Western science to advance restoration and conservation objectives. In the process, we created the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, enabling our Nations to collaborate. Ecologically important areas delineated by the plans form the basis of our proposed spatial protections for the MPAN-NSB.

If implemented, the MPAN-NSB would provide widespread societal benefits. The global conservation literature indicates that marine protected areas can increase the productivity of exploited species, promote the export of fish and invertebrates from protected areas to fished areas, and restore food webs. These processes enhance biodiversity, increase resilience to climate change, and benefit fisheries.

Conventional fisheries management has focused on maximizing yields for individual commercial species. In contrast, our traditional stewardship principles focus on the primacy of species interactions to the integrity of ecosystems. The difference spans beyond mere objectives and encompasses different values and worldviews. While the frameworks of conventional fishery management reflect Eurocentric views of human domination, our Nations and other Indigenous Peoples see humans as only one species among myriad interconnected lifeforms. By embodying our traditional principles, the spatial protections we propose would fill gaps in biodiversity conservation and precautionary fishery management that have persisted under current management approaches.