In a first of its kind on the Salish Sea, the Tsawout First Nation has signed a declaration protecting a 155 square kilometre area off the east side of the Saanich Peninsula.
The QEN’T Marine Protected Area declaration (pronounced “qwant”) was signed off by Tsawout councillors in front of dozens inside their longhouse Wednesday morning.
“Who’s going to do anything like this except for First Nations? We want to take a lead, and we want to work all of our neighbouring communities,” said Acting Chief John Etzel.
Following the Douglas Treaty signing, the Tsawout First Nation did have the right to continue their fisheries as normal, but years of habitat destruction, marine shipping, and overfishing impacted those rights.
The QEN’T declaration gives Tsawout a larger leadership role and the opportunity to create a management plan for restoring and preserving marine ecosystems.
“We can co-manage the resources that we’ve done alone since Millenia,” said Dione Joseph, fisheries technician for Tsawout First Nation.
“We’re glad to jump on board.”
They’re partnering with the non-profit group Guardians of Our Salish Estuaries Society (GooSE), where they’ll train people to manage protected areas with a focus on education, monitoring and data collection.
“The Salish Sea is an ecosystem that’s really important for salmons, for orcas, for the ecological significance of it. A lot of red-listed species are on the Tsawout lands,” said Tim Clermont, executive director for GooSE.
“This’ll enable us to have a sustainable fishery for all the people in the community so I can put food on everybody’s table,” said Joseph.
QEN’T helps further the Indigenous nation’s role in marine stewardship and environmental protection. Leaders hope this declaration will set off a chain reaction and that other First Nations will follow suit.
QEN’T is an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA), which are areas of lands or waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through various methods such as Indigenous law.
Tsawout now wants to consult with provincial and federal governments.