The Kitasoo Xai’xais and Nuxalk First Nations, along with BC Parks, have launched a new pilot program that designates 11 Indigenous guardians with the same legal authorities as park rangers within the parks and protected areas in their ancestral territories.
Six Kitasoo Xai’xais and five Nuxalk guardians recently received park ranger appointments during ceremonies held in Klemtu and Bella Coola to mark the official launch of the Shared Compliance and Enforcement Pilot Program. The pilot is the first project of its kind in B.C.
“This is groundbreaking; it’s a historic day. It’s a paradigm shift in how we work together,” said Chief Councillor Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation. “These guardians have passed the parks boot camp, all the courses, done all the training, and it’s amazing to see this come to life. This will set a new path for our guardians and we’re able to come together today because of the people in the background on all levels helping to make it possible, making big moves to get to where we are today. If there’s an example of reconciliation, this is it.”
The Nuxalk and Kitasoo Xai’xais Nations have had long-standing guardian watchmen programs and collaboratively manage, with BC Parks, all provincial parks and protected areas in their territories. This includes having guardians monitor more than 40 protected areas, such as Tweedsmuir Park, the Fiordland Conservancy, Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy and Dean River Conservancy.
The new pilot program supports the Nations’ stewardship responsibilities by designating guardians with legislative authorities so they can conduct compliance and enforcement activities within their territories.
“As Nuxalk, we hold an unrelinquishable su7ulm (title right) over our territories, which we have successfully stewarded for thousands of years,” said Chief Samuel Schooner of the Nuxalk Nation. “Our guardians represent the modern link to our ancestral responsibilities, and we are proud to see them take on the additional authority that comes with a BC Parks ranger designation. We feel confident that this new agreement will enhance the protection of our parks and protected areas and is a testament to the strong working relationship we have built with BC Parks.”
In June 2022, the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Nuxalk First Nations, along with BC Parks, signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the pilot program. Since then, a technical working group formed between the partners, with support from the Coastal Stewardship Network, and has been collaboratively developing the components required to support the successful implementation of the pilot.
“The Kitasoo Xai’xais and Nuxalk First Nations have been guardians of these lands and waters for millennia,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “The new pilot program strengthens collaboration between the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Nuxalk Nations and the Province, and builds on a long-term, shared approach to enhance protection of the rich ecological and cultural values found in the central coast. The inclusion of these Nations’ culture, values, knowledge and laws offers great benefit to our evolving approaches to provincial land and water stewardship.”
There are numerous Indigenous guardian programs across B.C., with guardians playing a critical role in stewardship of their territories. They uphold traditional and contemporary Indigenous laws, acting solely on the mandates and authorities of their Nations’ leadership. The new Shared Compliance and Enforcement Pilot Program is expected to be in place until 2025, at which point each party will evaluate the next steps in the partnership.
Aman Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Environment –
“Working with First Nations is an integral part of BC Parks’ continuing role in land management. There is still much work to be done, but we are committed to strengthening relationships with First Nations by nurturing common interests in stewardship, management and appreciation of the many values maintained and revered within these areas.”
Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast –
“Building and strengthening relationships with First Nations is important for both reconciliation and conservation. This new pilot program creates a pathway towards increased joint stewardship of provincial parks and protected areas that will safeguard critically important lands and waters in the central coast.”