British Columbia

Culturally significant First Nations marine sites mapped

The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation completed a collaborative research project with the DFO to create maps and data sets about culturally and ecologically important marine sites.

First Nations elders and youth drove the research behind new marine mapping database

From left to right, Georgina Amos, Eugene Amos and Harold Amos look over a map of their traditional marine territory. All three are members of the Ehattesaht/Chiehkint First Nation. (Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council)

The Nuu-chah-ulth First Nation on Vancouver Island now has access to data concerning culturally and ecologically significant maritime sites, information that could prove vital in the event of an oil spill or other emergency.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada funded an 18-month project that brought together researchers, elders and First Nations youth to catalogue vital coastal resources.

"In my experience, working with Nuu-chah-nulth people, they really take to heart the principle of stewardship and looking after the resources that have been passed down through the generations," said Luc Bibeau, who was the fisheries mapping coordinator for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council's Marine Traditional Knowledge mapping project.

The project maps everything from salmon spawning areas to clam beds and traditional fishing sites. It also includes places that are culturally significant but not necessarily tied to the ecology of the land.

In order to complete the mapping, Bibeau spent time in remote Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island working with locals and learning from traditional knowledge.

First step: build relationships

That kind of work means building trust in the communities, which Bibeau said took work, but was worthwhile.

"People who have the most knowledge about an area are the people who spend the most time in it," he told Michael Timchuck, guest host of CBC's All Points West.

Maps and data were left in the hands of 13 of the 14 First Nations that belong to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council to use as they see fit. 

"Those are provided in both a hard copy form; a physical map that you can take to a meeting and say 'look guys we need to focus on this area because it's one of the most actively used in the community so we need to ensure that it's protected and cared for,'" said Bibeau.

Bibeau hopes the materials will empower First Nations when in discussions with government or private firms about resource development or in the case of an emergency such as an oil spill.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West