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“For the Mamalilikulla First Nation, every day is Ocean Day,” says John Powell, chief councillor of the traditional land and waters of the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound). “Every day is land day. Every day is sky day. Every day, we connect to our ancestors and the stories that bind us to the reason that we created an IPCA under our ancient traditional law of Aweenak’ola.”

IPCAs – Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas – are a framework that recognizes Indigenous knowledge systems, legal traditions and customary and cultural practices. In November 2021, the Mamalilikulla First Nation designated a conservation area of 10,416 hectares in Knight Inlet on B.C.’s central coast.

" We know that it’s our responsibility to house, nourish, protect and defend all of the animals on the land, in the sky and in the sea, and to set an example about what holistic stewardship looks like.

John Powell
Chief councillor of the traditional land and waters of the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala

“The IPCA declaration reflects our intent to take a primary role in the planning, use, management and restoration of our traditional lands and waters,” notes Powell. “The law of Aweenak’ola says, ‘I am one with the land, sea, sky and supernatural ones.’

“We know that it’s our responsibility to house, nourish, protect and defend all of the animals on the land, in the sky and in the sea, and to set an example about what holistic stewardship looks like.”

The IPCA contains a unique underwater sponge and coral reef of high biodiversity, critical estuaries and salmon-bearing streams. A number of Mamalilikulla settlements and cultural and archaeological sites are also included.

“Restoring the pride around culture, language and history is one of our main reasons,” says Powell, who sees IPCAs as an opportunity for provincial and federal governments to advance their mandate and efforts towards reconciliation. “Having an arrangement with both levels of government to right the damage that has been done in the past – and to perpetuate a healthy territory into the future – is fully in line with what I would consider reconciliation.”

Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association in Taloyoak, Nunavut, is acutely aware of the importance of an Inuit-led approach to protecting the environment and its inhabitants, and nurturing sustainable economic development.

For generations, the northernmost community on Canada’s mainland faced the threat of industrial development coming into the territory, located on the southwestern coast of Aviqtuuq (formerly named Boothia Peninsula) at the Northwest Passage, he says. “We are hunters and gathers. We have to protect our livestock, the environment. Mining or gas exploration would destroy the ecosystem, wildlife and our people.”

" We are hunters and gathers. We have to protect our livestock, the environment.

Jimmy Oleekatalik
Manager of Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association in Taloyoak

In 2021, with assistance from WWF-Canada and ArctiConnexion, the community of approximately 1,100 was awarded the $451,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize for its food sovereignty project. Titled Niqihaqut – which means “our food” in Inuktitut – it aims to improve health and well-being of the people of Taloyoak, “especially our elders, single people and people with low income who have no means of going out on the land,” says Oleekatalik.

It will help create a local food-based economy, including a cut-and-wrap facility to prepare and distribute food, and strategies to ensure a sustainable and respectful harvest. These efforts will also be reflected in the management plan for the proposed Aviqtuuq Inuit Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA), which will cover 90,000 square kilometres of ocean, rivers, lakes and land.

These protections are needed to preserve sensitive marine ecosystems, says Oleekatalik. The loss of ice in the Northwest Passage, due to warmer water temperatures, will likely result in increased shipping traffic and the danger of vessels striking marine animals plus potentially contaminating the environment.

The Aviqtuuq IPCA will also bring economic opportunity, he adds. “It will help keep our culture and traditions alive for generations to come.”


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