Indigenous Watchmen Who Protect Coast May Soon Have Same Authority As Park Rangers

Province and two nations working on details to empower Watchmen with the same legal authority as government Park Rangers.

Kitasoo Xai’xais Chief Councillor Doug Neasloss, Minister Heyman and Nuxalk Chief Samuel Schooner at the MOU signing, June 1, 2022. Photo: Mike Graeme, Coastal First Nations

Coastal Guardian Watchmen may soon have more legal power to protect the coast after a historic memorandum of understanding between British Columbia and the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Nuxalk Nations.

The memorandum, signed this month, aims to empower designated Indigenous Guardians with the same authority as park rangers.

“The Nuxalk and Kitasoo Xai’xais have been Guardians of these territories since time immemorial,” said Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast, in a government press release. “This collaborative approach recognizes the local expertise in protecting central coast lands and waters.”

The Watchmen already patrol and protect their territories, but for lack of legal authority have had to turn past cases over to park rangers and other government officials.

With the new designation they will be able to uphold both provincial law and Indigenous laws in parks, conservancies and protected areas.  

The Watchmen would remain employees of their nations, but have the same legal authority as provincial park rangers.

Such formal powers have been discussed for 12 years, Kitasoo Xai’xais Chief Councillor and Stewardship Director Doug Neasloss told a publication of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine Nations living on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii.

He said being designated alongside park rangers and other enforcement authorities would recognize Watchmen for their training and ability.

Ernest Tallio, coordinator of the Nuxalk Coastal Guardian program, called the agreement a “huge step forward.”

“We’re always out, we’re always interacting with the public — sports fishers, tourists during bear watching season — but in the last 10-12 years, we’ve had a few instances where we’ve needed some kind of authority for illegal activity,” he told Emilee Gilpin of Coastal First Nations. 

“The Guardian Shared Compliance and Enforcement Pilot Project will designate select Indigenous Guardians with the same legal authorities as BC Parks rangers, making it the first project of its kind in B.C.,” said a government press release

The next step in the process, which will be in effect for about two years,  is the creation of a technical working group of representatives of the province and two nations, to iron out the details of the program.

The guiding principles included in the MOU include advancing reconciliation between Nations and the province, recognizing the need for long-term, sustainable and collaborative arrangements, and incorporating traditional knowledge and Indigenous laws, policies and customs.

The Nations and BC Parks collaboratively manage some 40 provincial parks and protected areas within each Nation’s ancestral territories, from Tweedsmuir Park to Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy.

“We’ve been doing this since 2010 so it means quite a lot to have some kind of legislative authority,” Coastal Guardian Watchman Ernie Tallio told Global News.  

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