Our traditional waters are among the most biologically diverse coldwater marine environments on the planet.

​​​​​Covering 102-thousand square kilometres, these are the traditional marine territories of the nine member nations of the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative. They include the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation.

Great Bear Rainforest:
Protecting Our Land and Sea

Coastal Stewards

Coastal First Nations have governed and stewarded our territorial waters for countless generations.

As a coastal people, we know that keeping ocean ecosystems healthy is the key to preserving:

  • Our Culture
    Our connection to the land and sea defines our culture and makes us who we are. Killer whales, salmon, eulachan and other iconic marine species feature in our traditions, ceremonies, stories and songs, passed from one generation to the next. Ancient village sites and important cultural sites in the Great Bear Sea are evidence of a vital marine culture dating back thousands of years.
  • Food security
    The sea is our grocery store – a lifeline of salmon, Pacific herring, sablefish, halibut, albacore tuna, geoduck clams, Dungeness crab, red sea urchin, roe-on-kelp, sea cucumbers and other traditional foods.
  • Economic self-sufficiency
    Our coastal waters support sustainable livelihoods – such as sports fishing tourism, wildlife viewing, cultural tourism, salmon and halibut fisheries, scallop aquaculture, and shellfish harvesting.

A Global Treasure

The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the world’s last largest coastal temperate rainforests. Its coastal waters sustain some of the richest marine cultures on the planet.

The Great Bear region is also a remarkable example of deeply interconnected land, sea and freshwater water ecosystems. Nutrient rich salmon help build old growth forests. Pacific coastal wolves have evolved to hunt for salmon in the sea. And rare white Spirit Bears fish in wild rivers.

Stretching from north Vancouver Island to the southern border of Alaska, the Great Bear Sea is one of the largest marine planning areas in the world. Dramatic coastlines, steep- walled fjords, dense kelp forests and large estuaries support an abundance of marine life here.

  • Recovering populations of humpback, fin and killer whales
  • Pacific white-sided dolphins, porpoises and Steller sea lions
  • Historically abundant salmon, herring and oolachon populations
  • An estimated 1.5 million breeding seabirds on Haida Gwaii’s islands
  • The world’s last remaining glass sponge reefs, coral and rare plant species
Select the pin to learn more
about CFN member nations



The Gitxaala Nation is a member of the Tsimshian Nation group and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited Indigenous territories on the North Coast.


The community-based Wuikinuxv Guardian Watchmen program has dedicated staff and resources to help monitor and protect important cultural and ecological resources, which are critical to the health and well-being of the Wuikinuxv people. The program builds on and strengthens the work currently undertaken by the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy program, land use planning and marine use planning.

Wuikinuxv Guardian Watchmen brochure (pdf).

For more information, visit the Wuikinuxv Nation website and its Resource Stewardship section.

Wuikinuxv Guardian Watchmen


Nuxalk identity and spirit are intricately tied to ancestral land and aquatic resources, and it is the responsibility of all living Nuxalk to honour the wisdom of their ancestors, respect their lands and waters, and re-establish a healthy balance with their environment. The Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen program strives to uphold this ancient tradition, by implementing projects in conservation, assessment, enhancement and monitoring.

Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen brochure (pdf).

For more information, visit the Nuxalk Nation website.

Ernie Tallio, Nuxalk Guardian Watchman Manager


The Metlakatla Guardian Watchmen program supports resource stewardship initiatives that are vital to protecting the quality of life of Metlakatla community members. The program aims to care for the environment in a sustainable and holistic way, and to protect cultural and natural resources by monitoring resource use and helping to enforce rules and regulations.

For more information about these stewardship efforts, visit the Metlakatla Stewardship Society.

Ross Wilson, Stewardship Director
250-628-3315 ext. 2034


The Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Watchmen Program was developed to steward, monitor and sustainably manage traditional lands and waters, and ensure activities and practices within these territories are consistent with community plans and government regulations.

Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Guardian Watchmen brochure (pdf)

For more information, visit the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation website and its Kitasoo/Xai’xais Integrated Resource Authority, plus the Spirit Bear Foundation, which undertakes ecosystem-based and community-driven applied conservation research.



The Heiltsuk Nation created a coordinated and integrated Guardian Watchmen program to protect the health of cultural and natural values of its traditional territory, and to sustainably manage its resources. Monitoring and stewardship are integral elements in implementing effective marine and land use plans, and ensuring important cultural and natural resources are protected.

For more information about Heiltsuk stewardship efforts, visit the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and its Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, as well as the Qqs Projects Society website.

Mike Reid, Heiltsuk Fisheries/Co-management
250-957-2303 x23


The Haida recognize that nature and culture are intrinsically connected, and that the protection of the natural and cultural values on Haida Gwaii is essential to sustaining their culture.

The Council of the Haida Nation has a Guardian Program that works both in Fisheries, monitoring river systems and fishing activity, and Heritage and Natural Resources, surveying the land base for Cultural Features.

For more information about Haida stewardship efforts, visit the Council of Haida Nation website.

Anita (Upsy) Moody, Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program Manager


The Gitga’at people have depended upon the abundance and richness of their traditional territory for thousands of years, and the well-being of their community is intricately tied to the health of these lands and waters. The Gitga’at Guardians are committed to land and marine use planning that reflects and emphasizes the need to sustain this relationship.

For more information about Gitga’at stewardship efforts, visit the Gitga’at Land Use Planning and Marine Use Planning webpages.

Shelby Fisher, Gitga’at Guardian Coordinator



Wuikinuxv people have lived on BC’s Central Coast since time immemorial. They have a rich cultural history and special connection to land and sea. Ceremonies were central to Wuikinuxv spirituality, usually surrounding seasonal harvesting of land and sea resources. Wuikinuxv Territory covers almost 7,000 square kilometers of land and more than 200 square kilometers of sea. The Territory is home to deep temperate forested valleys, glacial peaks of the Pacific Coast Range Mountains, and a large network of lakes.


Located at the south end of Graham Island of Haida Gwaii, Skidegate’s strong cultural life includes food gathering, traditional potlatch ceremonies, and song and dance. Haida art is world-renowned and Skidegate Nation is gradually replacing resource extraction jobs with ecotourism and cultural-related employment. Descendants of a rich Haida heritage, Skidegate residents are members of clans with their own chiefs, crests, stories and histories.

Old Massett

Old Massett is located on Graham Island’s north shore, the largest and most northern island of Haida Gwaii. It is home to Xaada families who once lived in villages spread throughout their territory. Five dialects of Xaad Kil languages are still spoken by residents. Haida people have sustained a rich culture closely connected to land and sea. Their territory is home to giant old growth cedar, spruce and hemlock, rare bird colonies, abundant sea life, and 1,068 salmon populations.



The Nuxalk live in Bella Coola, some 400 kilometres northwest of Vancouver at the mouth of the Bella Coola River. Nuxalk Nation is a mixture of many villages that were distributed throughout kulhulmcilh (our land). Nuxalk Ancestral Territory covers a land base of about 18,000 square kilometers as well as ocean areas. Their Ancestral Territory includes large watersheds, rivers and deep rainforest valleys and fjords.



Just north of Prince Rupert on BC’s North Coast, Metlakatla village sits on an ancient site. Metlakatla people have occupied and used the resources of the Skeena watershed, the Tsimpsean Peninsula and offshore islands, Work Channel, Portland Inlet and coastal areas around Prince Rupert for thousands of years. Community members continue to harvest land and sea resources for traditional foods and ceremonial activities. These include eulachon, salmon, clams, seaweed, octopus and medicinal and food plants.



Kitasoo and Xaixais people live in the village of Klemtu on Swindle Island on the Central Coast. They are two distinct tribal organizations – the Kitasoo originally from Kitasu Bay and the Xai’xais from Kynoc Inlet. Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Territory covers land and sea, totalling 3,939 square kilometres. Their territory is bordered by windswept island groups and narrow channels on its west coast. Deep valleys, long fjords and Pacific Coast Range Mountains are found in the east. Their territory is home to the Spirit Bear Conservancy.



The Heiltsuk are the main descendents of Hailhzaqvla-speaking peoples. Hailhzaqvla remains a living language expressing the Heiltsuk worldview and way of life. Heiltsuk Territory encompasses 16, 658 square kilometres of land. Archeological excavations have revealed ancient village remains dating back 11,500 years. Its boundaries are defined by six Heiltsuk tribal groups and extend into national waters. The Heiltsuk have had a relationship with these rich lands and waters for countless generations.


Since the beginning of time, the Gitga’at people have lived in their Territory of about 7,500 square kilometres of land and water on the Northwest Coast. The home community of Hartley Bay lies about 90 miles southeast of Prince Rupert, where Grenville and Douglas Channels meet. The Gitga’at are members of the Tsimshian cultural group, a matrilineal society. Salmon, halibut and cedar are resources central to Gitga’at culture and way of life.

Council of the Haida Nation


For millennia, Haida people have occupied their Traditional Territory of Haida Gwaii, a group of more than 200 islands based 100 kilometres off BC’s north coast. This territory encompasses parts of southern Alaska, the archipelago of Haida Gwaii and its surrounding waters. It is home to the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, the first national park co-managed by a First Nation and the federal government. The Haida Nation has also negotiated recognition and protection of Haida interests and cultural practices on its Traditional Territory.