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Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation creates their own Marine Protected Area in Great Bear Rainforest

After decades of talks with governments they couldn’t wait any longer
Herring swimming in Gitdisdzu Lugyeks (Kitasu Bay), a region that the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation recently named a Marine Protected Area. (Photo: Tavish Campbell/Moonfish Media)

A new Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been independently declared in the Great Bear Rainforest the Kitasoo Xai’xais Stewardship Authority announced on June 22.

“For decades we have worked with Canada and British Columbia to collaboratively form an MPA in Kitasu Bay (Gitdisdzu Lugyeks). We will continue to encourage that outcome, but can no longer wait until other governments act to preserve and protect this special place that is integral to our Nation,” Doug Neasloss, elected chief of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation said.

“Our right to establish this MPA comes from our inherent and Aboriginal Rights and Title and from our connection to this land for thousands of years.”

For the next three months, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation will be accepting public input on a draft management plan for the MPA.

They will also be sharing the plan with other stakeholders and governments. They would like to work with Canada and British Columbia to reach common objectives, Neasloss said. However, he clarified, they are not asking for permission.

“We note that the prime minister personally travelled to the Great Bear Coast in 2018 to sign the Reconciliation Framework Agreement, which included a commitment to establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas. The prime minister spoke about his commitment to marine conservation and the MPA network, and we trust he will support this step forward,” Neasloss said.

Jennifer Rice, North Coast MLA, had a previous career in marine-use planning. She understands that the Kitasoo Xai’xais are frustrated with how slow the process has been, she stated a June 24 email.

“I have been to Kitasu Bay with Chief Neasloss and have seen the tremendous abundance and sustenance it provides for people. Our government respects and acknowledges the efforts of First Nations to help protect ecosystems within their territories, through their declaration of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas,” she stated.

“I am confident that the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and other coastal First Nations have a partner in our provincial government in rectifying this, particularly in regards to reconciliation and stewardship of B.C. land and waters.”

Kitasu Bay is a spiritual place for the First Nation, most of whom live in Klemtu, less than 20 kilometres away.

The 33.5 square kilometre area of ocean now under protection is home to seabirds, whales, salmon, cod, halibut, shellfish and vital kelp forests. The wildlife along with the lands and waters are important to the nation’s economy, health and culture.

Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation drafted a management plan that uses a science-based, Indigenous-led approach to conservation.

Guardian Watchmen will be part of monitoring, patrolling for poaching and conducting marine rescues.

Fisheries officers are sparse in remote regions such as Kitasu Bay which is why the Kitasoo Xai’xais Guardian Watchmen, who are already on the water every day, will be used to help manage the MPA.

“We know these lands and waters better than anyone, Kitasu Bay has been part of our home for thousands of years through to the present day. This coast is our lifeblood,” Hereditary Chief Nies’los (Kelly Robinson) said.

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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