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Gitga’at Researcher Harnesses Indigenous Knowledge

Spencer Greening is a PhD student whose research combines western science and local Gitga’at knowledge of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Photo by: Mark Wunsch/Greencoast Media.

Spencer Greening, a member of the Gitga’at First Nation and PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University, is harnessing Indigenous knowledge to fight for land sovereignty. In April, Greening’s work was featured on CBC Radio.

Greening’s work is part of an effort to illustrate the long-standing relationship of the Gitga’at First Nation and a particular watershed in the Great Bear Rainforest. He is an archaeology student on paper, but his work incorporates history, archaeology, ethnography and linguistics, as well as scientific data gathered by Gitga’at Guardian Watchmen.

In his work, he collaborates with other academics, his advisor, as well as community members. There are a couple of goals in his work, Greening said. One is making sure knowledge is being passed from older to middle and younger generations. The other goal is more political.

“To be able to … really have evidence of use, occupancy, history – because that’s really helpful in political settings,” said Greening.

Ultimately, the political goal is to have the sovereignty over a landscape that existed for years and that his community has living knowledge of.

“Ideally, as stewards, we’re given that responsibility to manage that area as we always have, because we have the tools to manage it,” said Greening.

Greening’s work flows from a Gitga’at approach to stewardship of their land and resources that centres sustainability and ecosystem-based management. The Gitga’at are committed to an approach to land and marine use planning that reflects and emphasizes the need to sustain this relationship.

Gitga'at Guardians George Fisher, Marven Robinson and Mary Reece with the Gitga’at Guardian vessel. Photo by Brodie Guy.
Gitga’at Guardians George Fisher, Marven Robinson and Mary Reece with the Gitga’at Guardian vessel. Photo by Brodie Guy.

The Nation is working on a variety of analyses, resource planning and negotiation initiatives, all geared toward developing and implementing land and marine use plans, new resource management strategies and standards and new arrangements with governments and industry.

These changes will allow the Gitga’at to establish cooperative resource stewardship and further develop their economy in a sustainable fashion to meet community needs and aspirations. Ongoing monitoring which will help to develop new knowledge that will support these initiatives over time.

Coast Funds has approved funding to a number of Gitga’at conservation programs including its Guardian Watchmen Program. Like Greening’s academic work, the research conducted by the Gitga’at Guardian program assists the community in making informed decisions on development and economic plans using their own research and data.

With funding approved through Coast Funds, First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii are operating 14 unique regional monitoring and Guardian Watchmen programs, covering an average of 2.3 million hectares annually.

Learn more about how First Nations are protecting their territories through regional monitoring programs like the Gitga’at Guardians.

Read the full CBC article about Spencer Greening’s work here.