A community-based approach to managing impacts in northwest BC

Program developed by Metlakatla First Nation with contributions from Mitacs interns provides tools to assess industrial impacts within the Metlakatla territory

Long before hosting the second largest port in the Pacific, the territory around Prince Rupert, British Columbia, was home to the Metlakatla First Nation. Rich in resources and with a history of productive economic opportunities, this region has gone through many changes as a result of development projects and human activities, impacting not only the environment, but the wellbeing of the community.

In an effort to monitor the status of community values and respond to the effects of industrial activities in the territory, the Metlakatla First Nation established the Cumulative Effects Management (CEM) Program. The initiative is co-funded by the Metlakatla Stewardship Society, Metlakatla Development Corporation, and Metlakatla Governing Council, and counts on the collaboration of Simon Fraser University (SFU) researchers through Mitacs.

A multi-year program, CEM is now in phase four, which involves developing comprehensive mitigation, monitoring, and management strategies for priority values.

The program took a community-based approach. Metlakatla First Nation’s leadership and members fully participated in the development of CEM’s administrative process. They gave direction through extensive community engagement initiatives, including interviews, focus groups, and a census.

“It’s key to this project that it’s based on community values, feedback, and involvement,” says Anna Usborne, responsible for the program’s strategic stewardship initiatives.

This approach enabled the research to be based on measurable values of Metlakatla’s traditions and priorities.

What is the Metlakatla Cumulative Effects Management Program?

“Cumulative effects are changes and the buildup of those changes to the environment and to human wellbeing from past, present, and future projects and activities,” explains Katerina Kwon, Mitacs intern and PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University, who is also the co-manager of the project.

The CEM Program is designed to help both the Metlakatla First Nation and the government understand the changes and industrial impact on community values, as well as to support decision-making and the needs of the Metlakatla people. Ultimately, the community hopes to better manage the overall condition of values and improve resource management in the territory.

Metlakatla values, traditions, and history have been passed on through generations, and this cultural tradition guides the framework and methods of how the CEM Program is developed and conducted.

The program includes many interconnected values, and each is built upon five pillars that the Metlakatla has identified: environment, cultural identity, economic prosperity, social/health, and governance. Within those pillars, there are multiple values that the community worked together to identify.

For example, as clams are an important food source, they decided to include it as one of the pilot values for the program. Other pilot values include housing and food, social, and ceremonial activity.

Knowing that the CEM might evolve and change with time, defining the Metlakatla’s priorities and concerns are a key focus to ensure that the program will remain prevalent and consistent.

Creating cumulative change and overcoming challenges with collaboration

For the past six years, the team of Mitacs SFU researchers has been working in collaboration with academic supervisors Thomas Gunton and Murray B. Rutherford, both professors in the School of Resource and Environmental Management, with the Metlakatla Stewardship Society, and with Metlakatla First Nation members.

The program has been managed by Katerina Kwon and Taylor Zeeg, whose role is to ensure Metlakatla’s goals are being met, as well as to coordinate the Mitacs interns.

This year, the interns have been tackling unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Metlakatla village is in a remote area only accessible by boat,” Kwon explains, which has created some barriers in collecting data. They had to postpone research activities for the summer but have resumed them remotely in September.

“We’re doing Zoom calls and seeing how they go, because obviously there are challenges,” Kwon says, “We are going to continue our work, we’ve been managing so far.”

Since 2014, 16 SFU Mitacs-funded interns have worked on the project. Their role has been to identify Metlakatla values across the five pillars, collect baseline data, set management triggers and actions, and explore management challenges. All done while following traditional protocols, which enable them to strategize on the restoration and management of values and resources for food security, as well as other important goals of the Metlakatla First Nation.

By sharing knowledge and resources to create a comprehensive database of community values, the collaboration provides mutual benefits for the research interns and the Metlakatla First Nation members.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

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