Traditional Knowledge for Sustainability: Land use Planning among the Gitxaala of British Columbia, Canada

Project Contributor: Charles Menzies

Traditional fishing site in Gitxaala territory showing beach at low tide, with ancient stone fish traps (semi-circular) visible in the intertidal zone. Credit: Tristan Menzies

For many generations, the Gitxaala people have lived in their territories along the north coast of what is now British Columbia, Canada. Gitxaala laws (Ayawwk) and history (Adaawk) describe in precise detail the relationships of trust, honour and respect that are appropriate for the well-being and continuance of the people, and also define the rights of ownership over land, sea and resources within the territory. However, with the arrival of the first K’mksiwah (Europeans) in Gitxaala territory in the late 1780s, new forms of resource extraction appeared that ignored, demeaned and displaced the importance of the Ayaawk and Adaawk in managing the Gitxaala territories. The new industries (such as forestry, fishing, mining) have relied almost completely upon European science for management and regulation. During the last two decades, there has been a turn-around, and the value of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), such as that reflected in the Gitxaala Adaawk and Ayaawk, has been increasingly recognized.

The project “Forests and Oceans for the Future”  is a collaboration between community members from the Gitxaala Nation, a Tsimshian First Nation in British Columbia, and anthropological researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC). The principal focus of the project is the use of Gitxaala traditional ecological knowledge for provincial government land use planning. From conception through implementation, revision, and reporting back to the whole community, collaboration and respectful research practices are the central and fundamental principle of the work, where research is viewed as a long-term relationship. Implementing this approach is not a straightforward application of rules of conduct, but instead is built upon a conception of research as a long-term relationship – which requires goodwill, commitment, and compromise.

A key component of this project is to document and facilitate the deployment of customary forms of governance among the Gitxaala that regulate human action within the environment, acting to conserve and enhance biodiversity and leading to long-term sustainability within the Gitxaala traditional territory. Policy development and evaluation is another key component of the project and involves research designed for use within the provincial government’s Land Resource Planning Process (LRMP). Project team members contributed to preparing and presenting reports on the Gitxaala informal economy and TEK for use in the North Coast LRMP. Public education materials have been developed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and understanding of the issues, controversies and concerns related to forestry and natural resources. These materials were inspired by the experiences of students and community members living within the Tsimshian territory of British Columbia. Seven papers based on Forests for the Future Research were published in Volume 28 (1 & 2) of the Canadian Journal of Native Education and are available online (http://www.ecoknow.ca/journal/index.html). These papers are one of the outcomes of this unique collaboration between anthropology researchers from UBC and community members from Gitxaala. Project results suggest that rather than to macro-level planning authorities, resource management should be devolved to local-level organizations in conjunction with non-aboriginal people living within the territories. Individuals, agencies or corporations based outside the region should have a restricted role and limited access to resources and decision-making authority in the local arena.

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