The Narwhal: First Nations lead transition to conservation-based economy in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii

Haida women support their relatives in raising a carved monumental column by master carver Kilthguulans Christian White at Hl’yaalan ‘Lngee. The pole was raised in 2017 at Hiellen Longhouse Village, a promising venture in cultural revitalization and economic development. Photograph by Brodie Guy.

    The last decade has seen the creation of more than 100 businesses, 1,000 permanent jobs and 14 regional monitoring and Guardian Watchmen programs through conservation finance program

    The grizzly bears of Glendale Cove are the stars that draw international visitors to Knight Inlet Lodge. They are also the catalyst for one of the more than 100 successful First Nations businesses launched with the help of Coast Funds, an Indigenous-led conservation finance organization created through the 2006 Great Bear Rainforest agreements.

    “It is 100 per cent First Nations owned and it opened up our eyes to opportunities beyond resource extraction and shone a light on the opportunities and benefits of ecotourism,” Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council and Knight Inlet Lodge, told The Narwhal.

    Knight Inlet is an example of the achievements of the conservation finance funds, which promote community well-being and Indigenous-led sustainable development and stewardship, Brodie Guy, Coast Funds executive director, told The Narwhal.

    Over the last decade, more than 1,000 permanent jobs have been created, 100 businesses have been developed or expanded and 14 regional monitoring and Guardian Watchmen programs, operating across 2.5 million hectares, have been created or expanded, according to a Coast Funds report released this week.

    Funding approved for 353 projects has attracted more than $286 million in new investment to the region between 2008 and 2018 and every dollar spent by Coast Funds leverages three or four dollars, according to the report.

    “We are demonstrating that conservation finance, led by Indigenous people, is the key to protecting the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii,” Guy said.

    One key is that funding is allocated across the communities, rather than one big pot, so it avoids the gold rush mentality or competition between First Nations, Guy told The Narwhal.

    “It’s completely up to the nation based on their vision for moving forward and their stewardship of the land and water in this period of — hopefully — decolonization,” he said.

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Ancestral pictograph near Kalagwees, Kalugwis, or Karlukwees or Qalogwis—the home community of the Tlowitsis Nation of the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples of the Johnstone Strait region of the South Coast of British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Brodie Guy.

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