Coastal First Nations ‘Setting the Table’ for Marine Conservation

Coastal First Nations (CFN) hosted an important feast to ‘set the table’ for the three levels of government, partners and allies committed to finding sustainable ways to preserve and protect the coast for generations to come. 

The dinner, held at the Bill Reid Gallery on Feb 9, prepared by Nuxalk chef Nola Mack, invited representatives from First Nations governments, the province and federal governments to share food, stories and ceremony. It was a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the hard work of those who have paved the way for sustainable conservation across the Coast. It was also an opportunity to hold ceremony and blanket representatives from all levels of government who are committing to finding ways to work together for sustainable marine management for generations to come.

Setting the table
The feast held on Feb 9 at the Bill Reid Gallery was prepared by Nuxalk Chef Nola Mack, with support from Bon Vivant catering. Photo by Michael Ruffolo
Setting the table
The dinner was held on the last day of the Fifth Marine Protected Areas Congress in Vancouver from Feb 3-9. Photo by Michael Ruffolo
Setting the table
Invitees included First Nations Chiefs and representatives, Ministers and their support staff, philanthropists and more. Photo by Michael Ruffolo
Nola Mack
The menu and food for the feast were intentionally chosen, to remind the room of precious coastal ecosystems and their intergenerational stewards leading the marine conservation work. Photo by Michael Ruffolo

‘Remember why we’re doing what we’re doing’

During the fifth Marine Protected Areas ‘IMPAC5’ Congress, both the BC and federal governments, as well as 15 First Nations, endorsed a co-collaborative Network Action Plan across the coast. The plan and the financial models being set up to ensure its success build off of Coastal First Nation GBI’s success in investing in a conservation-based economy over the last two decades.

The MPA Network Plan for the Northern Shelf Bioregion is an important step in ensuring healthy ecosystems into the future and it will support efforts made by the Canadian government to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030, by providing a planned approach to the creation of new protected areas.

The only way they can meet those models — 25 by 25 and 30 by 30 — is to partner with and invest in Indigenous communities, because they’re our territories and we know them best,” says CFN Chief Executive Officer Xaad Xyaalaa Christine Smith-Martin. “We have amazing leaders, we have a financial model set up and we’re continuing to feed successful mechanisms to ensure this is here for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

The MPA Network Plan will draw on the strengths of many initiatives CFN has been involved in since its inception — from successful financing models and economic growth, stewardship departments, guardian watchmen programs, co-collaborative ecosystem-based conservation projects and more. The Plan will focus on marine management, driven by the communities who have been stewarding their territories for thousands of years.

After guests feasted on a one-of-a-kind Indigenous fine dining experience, Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation and his wife Shamantsut Amanda Nahanee led a blanketing ceremony, blanketing Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Joyce Murray, BC Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen and Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation/CFN President Marilyn Slett.

The ceremony represented three levels of government — the federal, provincial and various First Nations governments, coming together with a shared commitment to sustainable Indigenous-led marine management on the coast.

“We really want all three to remember that blanket you have on and the commitment we’re making to each other. When those times are tough, when you go back and people are questioning you, you remember all these people here, you remember these communities. Remember why we’re doing this work that we’re doing,” says Christine Smith-Martin. 

“We give it in good spirit. We give it so that in those tough times, you can grab that blanket and wrap it around you. It’ll give you the strength to continue on this journey, because we are going to be successful in this, we are.”

Setting the table.
“I was pleased to celebrate the success of IMPAC5 and the leadership of Indigenous people and CFN’s inspiring blanketing ceremony. I look forward to continuing the important collaborative work in protecting more of our coastal economies,” says Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray. Photo by Michael Ruffolo
Setting the table
Chief K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, president of Coastal First Nations GBI and Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council represented the many First Nations governments working collaboratively for successful marine protection across the coast. Photo by Michael Ruffolo
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen and Chief Marilyn Slett. Photo by Michael Ruffolo