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Indigenous guardians train to protect B.C.'s coastal ecosystems

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The lands and waters of Vancouver Island and British Columbia's south coast will soon be better protected by a group of Indigenous stewards.

Vancouver Island University (VIU) signed an agreement Wednesday with the Nanwakolas Council to deliver an intensive environmental protection course, supported by provincial funding.

"You could really go anywhere with the training," said Candace Newman of the K’ómoks First Nation, who earned her Stewardship Technician Training Program (STTP) certificate in 2021.

The STTP started in 2017, preparing students for careers in the environmental sphere. Learning outcomes include field skills, habitat monitoring, cultural awareness, and marine first aid.

Graduates can move on to become Indigenous Guardians, who are hired by First Nations to monitor and protect fragile ecosystems.

"You are the eyes and ears of the land and sea," Newman said. "You’re out in your traditional territory and really learning how to be a steward of the land like we always were."

The 20-week training begins this month in Campbell River.

“The Nanwakolas member nations are taking on increased responsibilities for environmental governance and management as we exercise our rights and title in the territories,” Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith said.

Member nations include the K’ómoks, Mamalilikulla, Wei Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations on Vancouver Island, along with the Tlowitsis and Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala Nations on the mainland.

"We need many more guardians actively engaged in monitoring forestry harvesting, hunting, protection of cultural sites, gathering data on key species, rehabilitation of damaged habitat, assessing resource development proposals, and ensuring compliance with land use plans and regulations," Smith said.

Moving forward, there's hope the guardians will earn enforcement status.

“We want to continue this program until we have full-blown equality between the B.C. Conservation Service, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wardens, and our guardians,” Smith said.

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