Coast Funds: The world’s first Indigenous-led conservation fund

February 1, 2023

Wei Wai Kum Guardians use a quadrant to count kelp bulbs and the marine animals they sustain. (Deirdre Leowinata | Coast Funds)

First Nations along coastal British Columbia have cared for and depended on their traditional territories for cultural, social, and economic well-being since time immemorial. More than two dozen unique First Nations communities live in this ecologically magnificent region, where the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii sustain old-growth forest, wild salmon, bears, wolves, and vibrant cultures.

Coast Funds was created in 2007, by First Nations, philanthropists, the Province of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada out of mutual recognition that sustainable financial resources are vital to conservation efforts in the region. Coast Funds upholds First Nations as the ancestral stewards of their territories, making it the first Indigenous-led conservation finance organization in the world.

Since 2018, the Donner Canadian Foundation has invested over $500,000 through Coast Funds in Indigenous-led stewardship. With this support, Coast Funds has partnered with First Nations, providing planning and resources to further the growth and expansion of their Guardian programs, which safeguard lands and waters, resources, and cultural sites. For example, Wei Wai Kum First Nation has hired new Guardians and works with partners to restore ecosystems, conduct research, and gather data to support the Nation’s decision-making. Through Guardian programs, First Nations are fulfilling ancestral responsibilities and re-asserting their presence on their territories.

‘‘Our young people are getting to connect with the wildlife, to the land, to the ocean. They’re the ones that motivate the growth of these programs.’’
– Mamalilikulla Chief Councillor John Powell

Wei Wai Kum Guardians conduct a kelp forest survey. (Deirdre Leowinata | Coast Funds)

In the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, First Nations operate 18 monitoring and Guardian Watchmen programs, covering over 5.6 million hectares. First Nations, with support from Coast Funds, are documenting their long-term visions for stewardship in their territories, identifying the actions, resources, and capacity needed to grow their stewardship and Guardian programs. And the results speak for themselves – examining stewardship priorities, developing goals, and articulating visions for the future can lead to unexpected, but wonderful, outcomes.

Wei Wai Kum Guardians build alder and willow fences to break the flight path of invasive Canada geese and to protect sensitive marshes. (Deirdre Leowinata | Coast Funds)

For example, in November 2021, Mamalilikulla First Nation declared an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala area (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound). The IPCA covers 10,400 hectares of marine area, encompassing unique underwater biodiversity, critical estuaries, and salmon-bearing streams. Protecting this marine area also serves to protect the lands and skies, all of which require careful management of human impact. As part of the creation of Coast Funds, there are now 113 managed/protected areas in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, and 17 First Nations with territory in this region have access to secure, self-directed funding for use in managing those areas.

Recognizing that Indigenous-led conservation works, the Government of Canada recently committed $800 million for four Indigenous-led conservation initiatives across the country, including one in the Great Bear Sea.

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