A Night to Remember — the Inaugural Great Bear Gala

Feature photo: Brenna Innes: Gitxaała Elected Councillor, Christine Smith-Martin: CFN CEO, Marilyn Slett: CFN President & Elected Chief Councillor of Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Dani Shaw: Elected Chief Councillor of Wuikinuxv Nation, Jennifer Walkus: Wuikinuxv scientist.


The first ever Great Bear Gala was a chance to celebrate decades of hard work, recognize outstanding leaders and partners and refocus on the collective work ahead. Representatives from Coastal First Nations communities, along with both federal and provincial government partners, industry and foundations, came together to reflect on collective values, goals and responsibilities we all share to keep coastal communities healthy and thriving.

The gala was held at the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, located on Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and xwməθkwəýəm (Musqueam) territories, hosted by charming Global BC news anchor Sophie Lui. A representative from the Squamish Nation Joelle Johnston welcomed the guests, sharing a story of the history of the place for her people, and Spakwus Slolem (Eagle Song Dancers) exercised their protocol and laws of their canoe culture, sharing songs and dance.

Great Bear Gala
Spakwus Slolem (Eagle Song Dancers) presentations bring out “Chiax,” the protocol and laws of their canoe culture, for their Longhouses. Spakwus Slolem presents a glimpse into their culture through singing/drumming, dance, and audience participation. Photos by Mat Lo.
Great Bear Gala
From left to right: Honourable George Heyman, BC Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy; CFN CEO Christine Smith-Martin; Glen Clark, Corporate Advisor to Rogers Communications and former Premier of BC; Navdeep Bains, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Rogers Communications; and Chief Robert Nelson of the Metlakatla Nation.


Coastal First Nations (CFN) Chief Executive Officer Christine Smith-Martin spoke about the success that the organization has had over the years — building up the Guardians program, clean energy projects, stewardship offices, the first-of-its-kind carbon offset program, which provides economic incentive to preserve ecosystems, and more.

“Coastal First Nations takes great pride in the groundbreaking land and marine agreements we have made together with the Federal and Provincial governments. Our goal has always been to protect and restore the health and wellbeing of ecosystems and people across the Great Bear Rainforest and Sea,” says Smith-Martin. “Our journey has been marked by innovation, resilience and the unwavering belief that we are stronger together.”

“This gala is an opportunity for us to recognize and honour those who have demonstrated exceptional dedication and support, and achieved remarkable accomplishments in their work with CFN and coastal communities,” says Smith-Martin. “These trailblazers have set high standards for themselves — we applaud their outstanding contributions and pay tribute to their commitment to protect our coast and revitalize our coastal economy.”


A coalition of the willing

Leadership Awards were announced for Harold Leighton, former Chief Councillor of the Metlakatla First Nation, Hereditary Chief Gidansda Guujaaw, the late Philip B. Lind, a longtime supporter of CFN, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Global BC.

Under Harold Leighton’s leadership, the Metlakatla First Nation has become one of the most successful communities on the coast. Leighton served as Chief Councillor and CEO of the Metlakatla Development Corporation for more than 30 years. His vision and ability to build partnerships with other First Nations communities and industry has resulted in Metlakatla being one of the largest private employers in Prince Rupert. A founding board member of CFN, Leighton excels with both business and political acumen, and stands as a powerful example of how forging strong relationships between Nations leads to social and economic prosperity. 

Guujaaw is a Raven of the Gakyaals Kiigawaay of Skedans from Haida Gwaii. He has worked with great dedication and purpose for more than three decades to advance the political, cultural, and environmental interests of the Haida Nation. In various capacities, Guujaaw has fought for protection of the land, economic sustainability, and Haida Rights and Title. He was involved in the establishment of the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), serving as its president for 13 years, as well as lead negotiator on the Gwaii Haanas agreement. Guujaaw’s leadership has been instrumental with CFN from the very beginning, and he has served as both a founding board member and more recently, special advisor.

In his acceptance speech, Guujaaw spoke about the early days of CFN, describing the people who came together as “a coalition of the willing” and letting the room know that he’s “not done yet” and will be “in the struggle for a long time to come.”

Great Bear Gala
Chief Gidansda Guujaaw called in from his home on Haida Gwaii, delivering his usual wit and charm in giving thanks and reminding everyone of the work yet to be done.
Christine Smith-Martin, Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, Brenda Leighton-Stephens and Harold Leighton.
The late Philip B. Lind’s daughter accepted his award on his behalf.
Meaghan Calcari Campbell, Program Officer for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for almost two decades, accepted the award.
Global BC news anchor Sophie Lui accepted the appreciation award, acknowledging her team for their commitment to the partnership.


Stronger Together

The late Philip B. Lind was a longtime ally, supporter and friend of CFN, and during his career at Rogers, he cemented a valuable and unique partnership. Through the Digital Supercluster, Lind helped to facilitate early conversations with the Haida Nation, exploring how Rogers could best work together with First Nations authorities, and ensuring the learnings were captured to be applied in future partnerships with other Nations. He advocated for the completion of the last leg of the Highway 16 cell towers, acknowledging the importance of connectivity. For Rogers, Lind served as a close confidant and advisor to company founder Ted Rogers for nearly 40 years, and was Vice-Chair of the Board at the time of his passing.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was one of the first foundations to support CFN. Gordon Moore was an avid sport fisherman and the protection of salmon throughout the North Pacific Coast was among his many causes. The Foundation has many active employees that work with both CFN and leaders within member Nations to actively support our programs. Global BC was also recognized with an appreciation award, for their commitment to building relationships and sharing accurate and meaningful stories that matter to Indigenous peoples across the province.  

After dinner was served and awards were given, live auctioneer Marc Bergevin led a live auction, prizes including a one-night Victoria getaway for two, a four-night stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, a two-night getaway at the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert, an all-inclusive stay at the Haida House in Haida Gwaii and a stay at Shearwater Resort and Marina, in Haíɫzaqv territory. Of the prizes, CFN President Marilyn Slett expressed pride that the majority are owned and operated by the Nations and based in the member Nation communities. 

CFN is grateful to our Presenting Sponsor: Rogers Communications, our Gold Sponsors: Humanity Financial, Great Bear Carbon Credit Limited Partnership, Coastal Nations Fisheries, Mandell Pinder LLP, Jouta Performance Group, Pacific Salmon Foundation and our Silver Sponsors: Eagle Bay Financial, Stirling LLP, V + A Group Inc., with support from Global News and the Province of BC for all of the support in making the evening a success.


Further reading:

Take a look back at the inception of Coastal First Nations.

Read about Canada’s commitment to financing the Great Bear Sea, the Marine Protected Area Network plan and Setting the Table for Marine Conservation. 

Read more stories from Coastal First Nations communities.

Follow Coastal First Nations on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for more.