First Nations lead transition to conservation-based economy in Great Bear Rainforest, Haida Gwaii

Haida women - Photo Brodie GuyHaida women support their relatives in raising a carved monumental column by master carver Kilthguulans Christian White at Hl’yaalan ‘Lngee. The pole was raised in 2017 at Hiellen Longhouse Village, a promising venture in cultural revitalization and economic development. Photo: Brodie Guy

The last decade has seen the creation of more than 100 businesses, 1,000 permanent jobs and 14 regional monitoring and Guardian Watchmen programs through conservation finance program

The grizzly bears of Glendale Cove are the stars that draw international visitors to Knight Inlet Lodge. They are also the catalyst for one of the more than 100 successful First Nations businesses launched with the help of Coast Funds, an Indigenous-led conservation finance organization created through the 2006 Great Bear Rainforest agreements.

“It is 100 per cent First Nations owned and it opened up our eyes to opportunities beyond resource extraction and shone a light on the opportunities and benefits of ecotourism,” Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council and Knight Inlet Lodge, told The Narwhal.

The former fishing lodge was bought two years ago from Dean and Kathy Wyatt by Nanwakolas — representing the Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala, Mamalilikulla, Tlowitsis, Wei Wai Kum and K’omoks First Nations — with a $6-million investment from Coast Funds, which allocates funds across the Indigenous communities of the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii.

“It was a fair chunk of change and one of the great things is it has shown First Nations can work together in ecotourism opportunities when we pool our assets and those of Coast Funds,” Smith said.

The success of the ecolodge can be measured in occupancy rates of 90 to 95 per cent, with the majority of visitors coming from markets such as Europe and Australia.

The Great Bear Rainforest covers 6.4 million hectares on British Columbia’s north and central coast — equivalent in size to Ireland. The land is home to 26 First Nations. The 2006 agreements outlined forest practices for the area, including protecting 70 per cent of old-growth forest. MORE

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