Canada’s North Pacific Coast is more than 27,000 km long, extending from low-lying deltas to mountainous fjords, from the beautiful landscapes of Vancouver Islands to the breathtaking Haida Gwaii archipelago. While canoeing in rivers and hiking in forests, we appreciate the pristine environment that supports one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
The North Pacific Coast is the homeland of many First Nations. For most of them, the ocean is the cornerstone of their cultural identity and the guarantee for maintaining their traditional lifestyle and practices. You may have heard the creation story of how the earth is formed on the back of Create Turtle after the fall of the Sky Woman. These stories vividly demonstrate the intimate relationship between First Nations, the ocean and marine life. As marine activities intensified in this region, establishing a comprehensive ocean governance framework is critical to protect First Nations’ traditional practices and balance multiple uses of the oceans.
In Canada, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) has been widely applied as an ecosystem-based approach and a public process for ocean zoning and strategic planning. Similar to East Coast stories (read more in my previous blog), on the North Pacific Coast, successful MSP depends on strong and meaningful First Nation participation to identify and emphasize traditional uses of marine spaces. However, the process of involving First Nations is full of twists and unexpected changes.
In 2009, the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) was developed as an umbrella MSP initiative by the federal government with the intention of working collaboratively with the government of British Columbia, First Nations, and other stakeholders. First Nations have been very active in providing their traditional knowledge and co-developing community-based plans under the leadership of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). These plans were supposed to be integrated into a large-scale spatial plan for the whole PNCIMA region.
However, in 2011, the federal government decided to withdraw from an agreement with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which would provide funding for stakeholder engagement and spatial planning. Due to the lack of funding, there was no longer technical and administrative support for First Nation communities to create spatial plans. The PNCIMA ended up with a high-level and strategic framework without a spatially based and integrated work plan.
The province of British Columbia and 17 First Nations continued to facilitate the spatially -based marine planning processes and initiated the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) for the North Pacific Coast. MaPP is probably one of Canada’s most successful MSP frameworks co-led by the provincial government and First Nations.
MaPP is an excellent example to demonstrate how First Nations can create community-based spatial plans and inform regional planning. With the help of spatial planning tools, software and online platforms, such as Marxan and SeaSketch, traditional knowledge can be interpreted into datasets and layers. First Nations, as users of these tools, are also able to access spatial data, conduct spatial analysis and design zoning plans, which could potentially be integrated into the final output of the MaPP.
However, due to the lack of engagement of federal departments, MaPP is still not able to comprehensively govern shipping or fishing activities, which are mostly under federal jurisdictions. To fill this gap, the Haida Nation has become the pioneer, developing community-based shipping and marine response initiatives. In collaboration with Transport Canada, a 14-month trial Voluntary Protection Zone for Shipping (VPZ) in Haida Gwaii came into effect on September 1, 2020.
The B.C. provincial government has completed reconciliation agreements with First Nations. It is believed that future MSP on the Pacific coasts will be guided under these agreements to respect aboriginal rights in marine spaces and facilitate meaningful involvement of First Nations as government partners in MSP.