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Strong historical and ongoing indigenous marine governance in the northeast Pacific Ocean: a case study of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation

Natalie Ban, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria
Emma Wilson, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria; Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority
Doug Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority


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Indigenous marine governance is increasingly recognized as having a crucial role in marine management and conservation, yet most examples are from the tropical Pacific and Oceania. We showcase strong and ongoing marine governance by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people of British Columbia, Canada. In partnership with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority, we synthesized information about marine governance by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people as collated in their Heritage Database, a compilation of interviews and recordings with knowledge holders, traditional stories, and historical documents, e.g., journals of explorers and anthropologists. We found that Kitasoo/Xai’xais marine governance underpinned sustainable resource use and has remained strong despite colonial efforts to undermine it. Kitasoo/Xai’xais marine governance flows from the underlying principles of their indigenous law that guide all actions in the traditional territory. The social institutions of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people are the mechanism for implementing marine governance: Importantly, hereditary chiefs hold key responsibilities regarding management of the oceans, embedded in ownership of specific places, passed on through names and stories. Kitasoo/Xai’xais protocols exist for respecting their territories, those of other nations, and the plants and animals being harvested. There are natural and spiritual consequences for not accessing and sharing marine resources in a way that follows Kitasoo/Xai’xais underlying principles, including loss of access. Contemporary examples of marine governance include the work of Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority, the Food Fish Committee guided by hereditary chiefs and elders, and everyone's actions to defend their territory from external threats. Given global efforts to recognize indigenous rights, an opportunity exists to change ocean management to fully recognize indigenous marine governance and leadership.

Key words

Community-based conservation; indigenous peoples; marine conservation; marine governance; marine tenures; northeast Pacific Ocean; Pacific Northwest; stewardship

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087