BC aquatic research facility incorporates Indigenous governance model

BC aquatic research facility incorporates Indigenous governance model

“Our First Nations leaders want reliable, local science advice that they can trust and understand in the face of so much competing and activist-driven science in the media,” Dallas Smith, of the Tlowitsis First Nation

By Samantha McLeod

British Columbia’s foremost aquatic research facility, is revamping its governance model to better represent local First Nations’ values and priorities.

In a statement, The BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS) said its new Board composition will honour reconciliation, respect, and recognition of Indigenous governance, territories, and rights by incorporating Indigenous Ecological Knowledge in its practices while empowering increased First Nations’ oversight to operations in their traditional waters.

The BC CAHS is a not-for-profit society located in Campbell River and is the only aquatic research facility of its kind in the province. It provides laboratory services, research, and outreach to support the health of aquatic species, their environments, and recovery. Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council and member of Tlowitsis Nation, will be assuming the position of Chair of the BC CAHS Board of Directors.  Joining him on the Board are Chief Chris Roberts of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation and Chief Ronnie Chickite of the We Wai Kai First Nation.

“This is not only an important step in reconciliation, but also an important step in building local, Indigenous-led science capacity,” said Dallas Smith, who was part of a delegation to Ottawa last month to urge the federal government to renew 79 expiring open-net salmon farming licences in BC.

“Our First Nations leaders want reliable, local science advice that they can trust and understand in the face of so much competing and activist-driven science in the media, which can be a very confusing and deceptive landscape,” he said.

“As First Nations we have an inextricable connection to our lands, waters and resources which is predicated on our stewardship obligations for future generations, bestowed to us from our ancestors,” said Chief Chris Roberts of Wei Wai Kum First Nation.

“When we talk about resource management in a modern context, acknowledging our rights over resource use and development as decision makers, we must be full participants in all aspects of monitoring, research, and analysis to give more confidence to decision making processes that include Indigenous knowledge systems and scientific practices for outcomes and results that we all understand and can live with,” he said.

Growing Indigenous-led science capacity and equity stake will allow for an increased focus on wild salmon conservation, innovation, resource industry stewardship, and broader environmental and aquatic animal health monitoring in the context of changing ocean conditions and climate change, said the BC CAHS.

“This model will build the scope required for assessing future marine-based, economic opportunities in the terms of environmental protection and future cultural needs,” said Maureen Ritter, former Chair of BC CAHS.

“This is an exciting time in Canadian history as we chart a path of reconciliation and deliver on the Truth and Reconciliation’s call to action for businesses and corporations,” she said.

The BC CAHS has been in operation since 2005, and throughout its growth has focused on building research and diagnostic capacity, forming networks of collaborators and establishing itself as a world-class diagnostic and research facility in fisheries and aquaculture.

Its core activities are based on best laboratory practices, documentation management, quality control and assurance of the analysis. It is accredited by the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation (CALA) and has been offering diagnostic services for over 15 years. BC CAHS has a record of peer-reviewed scientific publications, workshop proceedings, and publicly available reports. As part of the community, BC CAHS is also involved in wild fish enhancement by providing in-kind contributions to help local hatcheries and First Nations. Its staff provide training and outreach relating to aquatic animal and environmental health.

(BC Gov image of Dallas Smith, Tlowitsis Nation)