The history of First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest extends beyond human memory, with archaeological evidence dating settlements from the end of the most recent Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. Today, the region remains home to First Nations peoples whose histories, identities and spirituality are inextricably linked to the lands and waters of the rainforest.
The coastal First Nations are not a single people. Each First Nation has distinct traditions as well as unique circumstances and aspirations. The total population of coastal First Nations is estimated at 18,000 to 20,000, slightly over half of the population of British Columbia’s Central Coast.
Traditional governance and social and stewardship practices were severely disrupted by non-Native settlement and the imposition of colonial laws in Canada. Today, coastal First Nations are recovering from this legacy, while also working hard to overcome some of the most severe social and economic challenges in Canada. First Nations are re-establishing traditional governance and stewardship structures, and strengthening their connections to their territories once more.
Within the Great Bear Rainforest region, no treaties were signed between European settlers and indigenous peoples. And for generations, First Nations have fought for political and legal recognition of their aboriginal rights and title. The past decades have seen important legal breakthroughs that recognize and affirm these rights in Canadian law.
The recent historic land use agreements in Great Bear Rainforest were made possible partly because of these emerging legal precedents. The clarification of First Nations’ rights and title created the opportunity for a coalition of First Nations, conservation NGOs, industry and government to forge a bold vision for a sustainably-managed Great Bear Rainforest.
This story is by no means complete. First Nations continue to protect and assert their rights and title throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. Some are involved in modern treaty and self-government negotiations with federal and provincial governments that aim to resolve longstanding questions about title to lands and resources and to renew First Nations' jurisdiction over their communities and futures.
To find out more, download The Nature Conservancy’s fact sheet about First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest (pdf, 185KB).