The Coastal First Nations is an alliance of nations from British Columbia’s north and central coast and Haida Gwaii, from the Alaskan border in the north to Vancouver Island in the south. Our member nations include Metlakatla, Gitga’at, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk Nation, Wuikinuxv Nation, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation.
The Great Bear Rainforest is the unique habitat for the rare Kermode, or Spirit bear. Over the past decade concern over the destruction of the world’s coastal rainforests has reached global proportions. Alarm about the extinction of species, the irreversible damage to the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystems and the tragic harm that’s been done to First Nations cultures has captured the attention of millions of people around the world.
For thousands of years the First Nations along the north Pacific coastline carefully managed the abundance of natural resources in the sea and on the land by relying on their knowledge of seasonal cycles to harvest a wide variety of resources without harming or depleting them. The Coastal First Nations have watched as natural resources within our traditional territories have been exploited for maximum profit over the last 100 years. This has caused enormous economic, social and cultural damage to our communities. It’s clear an economy based on exploitation of natural resources is no longer viable.
At the start of the new millennium, the leaders of our First Nations on BC’s central and north coast and Haida Gwaii came together to discuss the common challenges we face, such as high unemployment, a lack of economic opportunities, and limited access to resources in our traditional territories. It was recognized that our strength would be to form a coast-wide alliance, working together on the socio-economic issues to enable a brighter future for our communities. The Great Bear Initiative was created with the conviction that active and meaningful participation by First Nations is essential for a conservation-based economy to succeed. We believe that the native people who live in these magnificent forests and waters are the ones who know best how to protect nature’s biodiversity.
Our experience has taught us that strong and thriving Coastal First Nations cultures are the key to the success of a conservation-based economy in our traditional territories. Our First Nations elders and hereditary leaders have told us that a sustainable economy depends on our ability to create partnerships that combine the ancient wisdom of our traditional cultures with the intellectual and scientific expertise of the modern world. The challenge ahead of us is to develop a conservation-based economy on BC’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii that recognizes the inextricable link between economic and ecological sustainability.