Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Prince Rupert on June 21 to announce a new ocean protection agreement with 14 B.C. First Nations.
At the Canadian Coast Guard base, Trudeau said the 14 First Nations will work together with the federal government to manage and conserve oceans, including marine spatial planning and developing a network of marine protected areas, in Haida Gwaii, the North Coast, the Central Coast, and North Vancouver Island. The area will span two-thirds of the B.C. coast.
A copy of the agreement was not made available to the public after the announcement.
“The First Nations of the Pacific North and Central Coast have been protecting Canada’s waters for millennia,” Trudeau said. “Working together, we will protect and preserve the Pacific North Coast, and we will advance reconciliation along the way.”
The Prime Minister spoke at length about balancing economic development, job creation and protecting the environment.
Trudeau: “I know we could not have better partners than the people gathered here today” and calls today an important next step in stewardship
— Keili Bartlett (@KeiliBartlett) June 21, 2018
The federal government and the First Nations also reinforced their promise to work together on projects already underway as part of Ottawa’s $1.5-billion Ocean Protections Plan, such as improving waterway management, boosting emergency preparedness, and increasing the response capacity of local First Nations.
The first speaker, Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation and President of the Coastal First Nations-Great Bear Initiative, said the reconciliation framework must support First Nation self-determination.
“It is clear that to be successful, oceans management and protection must be Indigenous-led,” Slett said. “We must support the nations of the coast and their vision of a marine safety regime that will ensure the protection of our coastal communities, our economies and our ecosystems.”
Another project is also already in progress to address vessel traffic problems in local waterways, including setting out measures, such as speed and routing controls, to improve safety and reduce the impact on the environment.
Of the more than 57 projects under the Ocean Protection Plan, Bruce Watkinson, the fisheries manager for Gitxaala Environmental Monitoring, said the data collection will be crucial.
“One of the important projects for our area in terms of LNG and potential energy projects out of the Port of Prince Rupert is to examine the cumulative effects of shipping on the environment. We’ve picked several values including salmon and water quality to really look into,” Watkinson said.
“We need to go out and collect information to know where and when to protect the environment and to determine what levels and types of industrial activity and economic drivers that we can accept.”
Of Trudeau’s announcement on National Indigenous Peoples Day, Watkinson said it is important to celebrate the milestone of signing the reconciliation framework agreement.
“We’re very encouraged,” he said. “This is an important milestone, but in terms of reconciliation with the federal government, we’re not there yet. We are making positive steps and today was a good day to celebrate the positive steps that we have taken.”
Following the announcement, Trudeau answered questions from media regarding the recent closure of the salmon fisheries on the North Coast.
“We know that salmon are essential to not just the coast ecosystem around here, but the livelihood of so many people from Indigenous peoples to tourists and tourism in the area to the wildlife that surrounds us. This is something that we understand is under stress and under threat. That’s why the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and others have taken so seriously our responsibility,” Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister said the national science advisor will weigh in, and Indigenous leaders will contribute traditional knowledge.
“We know there is an urgent need to move forward on this, but we know we have to get it right. Because whatever decisions we take will have real consequences on people who make their lives from various industries,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re doing it right to protect both livelihoods and, of course, salmon stocks for future generations, not just here but right up and down B.C.’s beautiful coast.”