If you look after the land, the land will look after you

April 10, 2015 (All day)
AustNWT delegation.jpg

Coastal First Nations Learning Exchange Explores Shared Values

The scenery and weather of their territories couldn’t be more different, but Indigenous leaders from the Northwest Territories, Australia and coastal British Columbia quickly connected around their shared mission to protect their lands and cultures. Around the world, Indigenous peoples are struggling to reclaim authority over the lands and waters that have always been their homes. They seek a balance between stewardship and economic opportunities for community members in the face of a wave of proposed resource developments.

“The trip was a chance to find a spiritual connection between our different cultures around looking after lands, traditions, language and for preserving for our future generations” – Mervyn Mulardy, Karajarri Cultural Advisor

Last August, ten Indigenous resource stewards of the Karajarri tribe (Australia), Lutsel K’e Dene (Northwest Territories), Kitasoo Xai’xais, Heiltsuk and Metlakatla First Nations came together on a learning exchange organized by the Coastal Stewardship Network. The group of rangers, cultural advisors, researchers and elected council members gathered in Klemtu, Bella Bella and Prince Rupert to share experiences.

The visit to Klemtu featured a visit to the Fiordland Conservancy Area to learn about protected area management and understand how the Kitasoo Xai'xais have developed a first class eco-tourism business that provides employment and revenue for the community. A memorable search for the elusive spirit bear inspired courage. A highlight was seeing the youth group put on a cultural performance that incorporated story-telling and dance at the big house.

The next stop was Bella Bella, where the visiting groups were inspired by the Heiltsuk Nation's Koeye camp. Developing innovative programs in their home communities that link culture, science and youth is a priority for all of the groups. “We need to start building an infrastructure like Koeye as part of the Thaidene Nene Indigenous Protected area. It is an important way to connect families back together and help teens who have lost their identity and language,” said Addie Jonasson, Lutsel K’e Dene councilor.

A highlight for everyone involved was a cultural performance by the Karajarri dancers for Heiltsuk leaders that was reciprocated with a Heiltsuk drum song. A morning boat patrol around the Prince Rupert harbour with Metlakatla Guardian David Doolan reinforced a shared commitment to ensure that community concerns, such as impacts to food sources and cultural sites, are considered in the environmental assessment of proposed resource development projects.

“Highlights were exchanging culture and ideas; learning about fisheries and aquaculture and other enterprises like oil from cedar plants; and learning new words like guardian watchmen as opposed to rangers – same philosophy but different way of saying things.”  Jessica Bangu, Karajarri ranger

For more photos from the delegation click here. Click for more information about the Karajarri rangers and Lutsel K'e Dene Nation.