The Gitga’at First Nation is making partnerships once again, further to the recent announcement from Coast Funds on coastal First Nations attracting $200 million in investment in the Great Bear Rainforest conservation economy.
This time, it’s WWF-Canada that is benefitting from the Gitga’at First Nations’ expertise and cultural knowledge of the Nation’s lands and waters located in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest on the North Coast.
Representatives from WWF-Canada and the Gitga’at signed a “mutually beneficial partnership” on the evening of Oct. 3 in Hartley Bay.
The partnership is meant to encourage economic development in the region that is based around conservation, sustainability and free from resource exploitation.
Broadly, the partnership agreement establishes that the Gitga’at’s sovereignty, title and ownership in its 12,500 sq. km of land and water is continually recognized in all aspects of development and recreation in the area, and the Nation has the authority to govern activities to protect the rainforest according to traditional laws and customs.
Next, the agreement allows WWF-Canada’s marine conservation expertise to be recognized, along with its activities involving establishing conservation methods that respect the needs and traditions of relevant communities.
Finally, the partnership outlines that the two bodies will work together in developing an appropriate marine protection strategy for the territory and will explore sustainable economic development strategies.
“The Gitga’at people have a long history of protecting our territory and the marine resources that sustain our nation,” said Art Sterritt, Gitga’at communications lead Oct. 4.
“Our goals are not short-term profits, and we are not willing to go down the road of creating a dependency on a single industry such as oil and gas. The decisions we make about how our land and waters are managed can have a global impact and we want to work jointly with WWF-Canada to ensure the continued sustainable use of our natural resources.”
WWF-Canada president and CEO, and former Mayor of Toronto David Miller also dove into the background between the sustainability organization and the First Nation.
“We have an opportunity to support each other’s goals. This agreement is based on the fact both WWF-Canada and the Gitga’at believe that community benefits go hand-in-hand with environmental protection. Our partnership is about protecting the land, water, plants and animals under Gitga’at stewardship so the community receives long-term benefits,” said Miller.
The Gitga’at already have conservation and economic development initiatives in place, such as the Gitga’at Guardians program, which monitors Spirit Bears’ (Kermodes’) foraging and habitation activities through hair snag stations, and have also developed an underwater hydrophone network to detect orca and humpback whale calls. This helps track population and feeding areas.
Miller and WWF-Canada explored the territory on Oct. 5, and ran into Spirit Bears on the excursion. They also travelled on the Gitga’at Guardian vessel from Kitimat to get to Hartley Bay.