Taku River Tlingit First Nation in northwest British Columbia has declared some 7,000 square miles of its traditional lands a protected area, requiring compliance with Tlingit values for extractive mineral activities to happen in this biodiverse ecosystem.
The Taku watershed covers 1.8 hectares (6,949.8 square miles) and is the largest watershed on the Pacific coast of North America that is inaccessible by road. It is home to all five species of Pacific salmon and supports large mammal predator-prey relationships from the inland boreal forest and glacier-fed streams to coastal transition zones.
Jinik (Charmaine Thom) spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit, said they have a sacred relationship with their territory, which encompasses caring for all life. “The declaration of the Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) is an extension of this commitment to forever care for the fish, wildlife, waters and all other life and spirits within the Taku River Tlingit territory,” Thon said.
The new IPCA establishes a fair, responsible and respectful framework for Indigenous leadership, reconciliation economic certainty, environmental protection, climate resilience and wild salmon conservation and restoration, she added.
“The mapped vision for the IPCA represents generations of knowledge and decades of work.”
The decision to form the IPCA, announced in late January, notes the impact of climate change in exacerbating existing challenges and health stressors for Indigenous peoples in Canada, from wildfires and permafrost thaw to glacier retreat, changing wildlife patterns and flooding.
The Taku River Tlingit said they look forward to implementing the IPCA with continued support from the governments of British Columbia and Canada, neighboring First Nations, responsible businesses and local partners. Large, intact ecosystems such as the Taku watershed provide species with the necessary space and genetic diversity needed to adopt to environmental change, they said.
The Taku River Tlingit have historically been miners and they see this IPCA as providing a path forward in a way that values and considers all aspects of their cultural heritage, while supporting Canada’s need for critical miners. The IPCA protects critical landscapes while providing for a diversified economic future.
Sixty percent of the watershed is protected through the IPCA to preserve salmon rivers, spawning areas and landscapes needed for wildlife clean water and Lingit Kusteeyl, the Tlingit way of life. The remaining 40% is identified as special managed landscapes, including zones with high mineral potential, where the IPCA provides opportunities for respectful clean mineral extraction and other uses that support a low carbon economy, Thom said.
Mineral tenure holders with interests on the territories identified in the IPCA have been notified and two mining entities are already working with the Taku River Tlingit on future plans.