For thousands of years, the surrounding sea was simply known as the home of the Kwakwaka’wakw.
The idea of the Kwakwaka’wakw Sea—a body of water defined by a common Indigenous culture and ecology—fell out of use after European contact, but is now being resurrected by the ‘Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay. The name change is not just about semantics. It’s about stewardship.
The ‘Namgis First Nation, with the support of Ecotrust Canada and other Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations, have collected and analyzed a massive volume of oceanographic, commercial, ecological, biophysical, cultural and socio-economic data on this newly re-named marine territory—an unparalleled level of research. Brian Svanvik, a ‘Namgis GIS Technician, has used data collected by ‘Namgis and other researchers to create a growing series of unique marine maps, the beginnings of a Kwakwaka’wakw Sea atlas.
The goal is to use this information as the basis for decision-making and a marine stewardship program for their territory. The ‘Namgis want to balance human use with the ecosystem, harkening back to their ancient ways but with an eye to the future. They are doing this by integrating their traditional knowledge with the most advanced science, data collection and information technology available. For the ‘Namgis, resurrecting the name Kwakwaka’wakw Sea is about creating a sea change in how we steward our oceans.