Prime MInister Justin Trudea and a group of indigenous leaders posing for a photo

New federal funding buoys First Nations’ efforts to protect Great Bear Sea

National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Coastal First Nations striving to protect to B.C.’s Great Bear Sea got a boost after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced $800 million in funding for Indigenous-led conservation projects.

Spread over seven years, the funding will support projects in B.C., Ontario, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and is expected to protect a total of one million square kilometres, said Trudeau. The prime minister made the announcement at the global United Nations biodiversity conference, known as COP15, underway in Montreal. 

The investment is a big step toward fostering Indigenous-led conservation and contributing to Canada’s promise to conserve 25 per cent of land and waters by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030, Trudeau said. 

The funding destined for B.C. will build on the success of the 17 First Nations that collaborated to establish the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) — totalling 6.4 million hectares along the B.C. coast from the Discovery Islands in the south to the Alaska border in the north.

“It’s a recognition of the climate crisis that we’re in and the partnerships that need to happen with Indigenous communities to make the most significant conservation efforts,” said Coastal First Nations president and Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett.

Ottawa’s investment will help create a conservation finance framework to steward and collaboratively govern the region’s waters, similar to the one successfully established for the GBR, which also created thousands of jobs and more sustainable and equitable local economies, Slett said. 

That framework, Project Finance for Permanence, brings together Indigenous groups, governments and the philanthropic community to identify shared goals for protecting nature and ultimately halting biodiversity loss. 

“We know that self-determined finance and collaboration are key to achieving long-term outcomes,” Slett said. 

The new funding brings the vision of the nations full circle by linking the management and stewardship of the Great Bear Region across land and sea, said Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council.

The federal government hasn’t detailed how much funding will be allocated to the four initiatives. But Smith commended the federal government for supporting Indigenous-led conservation projects across Canada and helping to put them at the heart of global conservation efforts.

“When you combine the strength and determination of these Indigenous leaders, the scale of the territories we protect and steward and the ambitious investment from Canada and private funder partners — we are building something truly remarkable,” Dallas said. 

Top image credit: Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith, Coastal First Nations CEO Christine Smith-Martin and Nanwakolas’ executive director Merv Child with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he announced $800 million for Indigenous-led conservation. – Photo courtesy of Coastal First Nations

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