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Nuxalk Nation Stewardship, Culture Featured in Canadian Geographic

Nuxalk students at Acwsalcta School learn their Nation’s dances, language, stories, customs, and culture. Photo by Laura Hope

A new feature in Canadian Geographic showcases the work of the Nuxalk Nation’s Guardian Watchmen program and ancestral governance project.

Journalist Julian Brave NoiseCat visited Nuxalk territory in May 2018 to learn more about the Nation’s cultural and stewardship revitalization endeavours. There, he met with Snxakila (Clyde Tallio)—who leads the Nuxalk ancestral governance project—as well as a number of hereditary chiefs.

“Tallio and others are working to bring Nuxalk rights back to…Nuxalk territory,” writes NoiseCat in the November/December 2018 issue of Canadian Geographic. “In the coming years, many places in the Nuxalk homeland, roughly from Dean Channel in the north to South Bentinck Arm in the south and King Island in the west to the Bella Coola Valley in the east, may come under Nuxalk jurisdiction for the first time in more than a century.”

As eyes and ears watching over water and land, the Watchmen are enacting a simple but potentially revolutionary principle: the return of territories and resources to Indigenous protection.

In 2017, Nuxalk Nation purchased a new vessel for their Guardian Watchmen program., with support from Coast Funds. Photo by Laura Hope

The article also explores the incredible work of the Nuxalk’s Guardian Watchmen program, managed by Ernie Tallio. A brief excerpt is featured below, find the full article here.

“The program provides secure jobs to Indigenous people in a region with few, but it offers more than just employment. As eyes and ears watching over water and land, the Watchmen are enacting a simple but potentially revolutionary principle: the return of territories and resources to Indigenous protection….

While Clyde tracks our patrol through linguistic history, Ernie uses an app on his standard issue Guardian Watchmen tablet to collect data. Last year, the Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen traversed 14,723 kilometres of territory on 139 patrols. They are well on their way to exceeding that number this year. The data they collect is uploaded to the cloud where First Nations policy-makers combine it with science, analytics and traditional Indigenous governance systems.  Indigenous governance and environmental science often advance in tandem. The Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen recently wrapped up a bear study that helped advance knowledge about bear behaviors and populations in their territory.

The Watchmen are often the only authorities out on the land. They rarely encounter BC Parks or Fisheries and Oceans Canada rangers because those understaffed agencies can’t afford regular patrols. As a more constant and reliable presence, the Watchmen are increasingly called upon to uphold not just Indigenous and environmental laws, but also public safety. Just three days earlier, the Nuxalk Watchmen rescued three teens who capsized their kayaks near the mouth of the Bella Coola River.

From left to right, Nuxalk chief councillor Wally Webber, and Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen Roger Harris, and Ernie Tallio. Photo by Laura Hope

Later in the season, the Watchmen encounter sport fishers, wildlife viewers, commercial trawlers and professional prawners. They give the visitors they meet a friendly reminder that this is Nuxalk territory and ask that all respect the Nuxalk way.

Through their actions, the Guardian Watchmen are steadily building a case for Indigenous governance of this coast. And among the public, the Guardian Watchmen are gaining favour with fishermen, tourists and locals they encounter on patrol every day.”

Coast Funds is proud to support the Nuxalk Nation’s stewardship endeavours, including the Guardian Watchmen program and investments in infrastructure vital to the success of the Nation’s stewardship projects. Learn more about First Nations-led, Coast Funds-supported stewardship and conservation projects here.