British Columbia·Coastlines

From Nunavut to B.C.'s North Coast, Indigenous knowledge leads the way in marine protection

Across the country, Indigenous stewards, scientists and environmental advocates are looking to implement solutions to help protect the health of our oceans.

'Coastlines' is a new series from CBC's Creator Network exploring Canada's oceans

Jordan Wilson is a Heiltsuk Coastal Guardian Watchman who helps steward the coastal environment of B.C.'s north coast. (CBC Creator Network/Courtesy of Ocean School)

This story is part of Coastlines, an original series with the CBC Creator Network exploring Canada's oceans. You can watch every episode of the series here.


Canada's marine environments are increasingly threatened by pressures such as plastic pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change.

But across the country, Indigenous stewards, scientists and environmental advocates are trying to help protect the health of the oceans.

"To me conservation is just a way of life," said Jordan Wilson, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, which is on the coast, about 660 kilometres north of Vancouver. 

"The Heiltsuk's people's beliefs of what conservation is, is not that we manage the land and the ocean. We believe in coexisting and taking stewardship of it. We take care of the environment and in turn it takes care of us." 

Stewardship for 700 generations

Wilson is a member of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen, a regional group of made up of stewards who monitor their territory to ensure resources are managed sustainably. Similar programs have been established in dozens of communities across the country, with funding support from the federal government.

Wilson says the programs recognize that Indigenous knowledge and stewardship practices have been proven to be some of the most effective ways of protecting biodiversity.

"The Heiltsuk practise is taking only what we need, leaving behind enough to ensure the preservation of what we are harvesting, making sure it will always come back to flourish," he said.

"I want to make sure that another 700 generations can continue to enjoy the beauty of the nature in our territory the way I do."

WATCH | Protecting the ocean

Inuit-led Arctic preservation

In the Arctic, Inuit communities hold similar views of symbiotic relationships with and stewardship of the ocean. Justin Milton is a young Inuk who shares Wilson's conservation sentiments. 

"Inuit and the Arctic Ocean are deeply intertwined, and that to me is much more than just the traditional sense of having marine conservation in the ocean," says Milton, an Inuk from Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), about 1,065 km northwest of the capital Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Milton is the manager of Ikaarvik, an Inuit-led organization that connects researchers and scientists with Indigenous knowledge about the Arctic and its natural environments.

Tallurutiup Imanga covers an area more than twice the size of Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

It's one of a series of initiatives in which Inuit have led the way in environmental protection and stewardship.

Other such projects include the creation of a new national marine conservation area called Tallurutiup Imanga, which covers about 110,000 square kilometres of ocean — more than twice the size of Nova Scotia. The protected area was announced by the federal government in conjunction with the government of Nunavut and the Qikqtani Inuit Association.

Milton says partnerships like that are a "step in the right direction because not only will it protect the marine wildlife and ecosystem in the Arctic, but it also gives Inuit more self-determination and the waters that are traditionally used since time immemorial will be protected."

About this series

(Coastlines/CBC Creator Network)

Coastlines is an original series with the CBC Creator Network that dives into the future of Canadian coastlines and marine life, and the young researchers who are trying to protect them.

Co-hosted by wildlife conservationist and educator Connel Bradwell of Vancouver Island, and commercial fisher and science technician Erica Porter of Nova Scotia, every episode of Coastlines features researchers from the West, North and East coasts.

You can watch every episode of Coastlines on cbc.ca

About the Creator Network

The Creator Network amplifies the voices of the next generation of Canadian storytellers and connects them with CBC platforms, where they tell compelling stories and share unique perspectives that reflect the country in all its diversity. Learn more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connel Bradwell

Connel Bradwell

Connel Bradwell (he/him) is a wildlife conservationist and educator living on Vancouver Island. He is the producer and co-host of Coastlines, a CBC digital series, that brings together young Canadians who are working to save animals, plants and habitats on all three of Canada's coasts. Bradwell's research has focused on the behaviours of endangered orca and migratory bird populations along the B.C. coast.

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