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The purpose of this report is to provide detailed, up-to-date information on the wide selection of software tools currently available to First Nations. The referral process in the Province of British Columbia has developed as a result of court cases that found that the Provincial and Federal Crown have a legal duty to consult and, where necessary, accommodate First Nations when development activities are being carried out within their traditional territories. The referral process is triggered anytime the Crown is about to make a decision which may impact Aboriginal rights. This has resulted in an inundation of almost daily referrals upon sometimes small First Nations with limited staff and resources. Organizing, prioritizing, analyzing and responding to referrals in a meaningful and effective way has proven to be a major logistical and administrative challenge for Nations today.

To assist First Nations in meeting this challenge, several referrals management software tools and solutions have been developed, and over the last decade a competitive market for such products has emerged. Understanding and keeping up to date with all of the different software tools and solutions available to First Nations is difficult, as is making decisions about how to best manage referrals.

In an effort to provide the most relevant and up to date information on referrals management software tools available to First Nations today, we reached out to both software providers and users in British Columbia. Referrals management software tools are highly customizable and include value added services which complement each system, as well as constant updates making any static documentation or review of the software quickly obsolete. Further, because each situation is unique, our own experiences using the systems may not reflect those of First Nations. We encourage any Nation looking for referrals management software solutions to use this report simply as an introduction and starting point for the options available, and to reach out to software providers directly to better understand how they can support them in their particular situation.

The Software Providers

  • Referral Tracking System (RTS)
  • Cedarbox
  • StoloConnect
  • Stewardship Planning Portal
  • Lightship (Formerly Lightship Labs)
  • Community KnowledgeKeeper (CKK)
  • Louis Toolkit
  • Trailmark

Main Challenges of Referrals departments

  • Finding, training, and retaining referrals management staff, particularly those with GIS experience or other technical expertise, seemed to be a major challenge for First Nations
  • Data entry was one of the most difficult aspects of managing referrals, regardless of which or whether a software was being used
  • Training staff on software almost always seemed to be a challenge, and there is always a long learning curve
  • A lack of funding for managing referrals and paying for software
  • Constant updates to software can require re-training on the same system, or the modification of a feature that was previously used
  • As with any technology, there are always bugs that need to be fixed
  • Troubleshooting software can become costly in terms of both time and resources

Benefits of Referrals Management Software Systems

  • Proponents can enter their own data into the system, saving time for the First Nation
  • Built in mapping means non-GIS staff can conduct simple spatial analyses
  • Ability to carry out cumulative impact analyses in ways that were not possible before
  • Streamline the referrals process and centralize all data into a web accessible system
  • Integration of traditional use studies and other field data into referrals assessments
  • Simplified tracking of referrals and comments
  • Software updates can provide new helpful features

Other Important Themes

  • Focusing on engagement with proponents rather than the referrals process itself can be a better way to achieve desirable results for the First Nation
  • Having community liaisons or cultural monitors on staff is an important way of engaging communities in the consultation process and ‘ground truthing’ impacts
  • Multiple Nations using the same system and/or process means collaborative troubleshooting and joint improvements to the software, and can result in lower costs
  • Funding for referrals can be received from the government regulators through which the referral is sent (i.e. provincial ministry) or from industry
  • Funding which comes directly through engagement with proponents is often the most valuable

The Referrals Dilemma

Our conversations with referrals staff across BC revealed that there are a wide variety of processes and systems being utilized to manage referrals. Many Nations are striving to catalogue, analyze and respond to every referral, while others are filtering through the often endless flow of referrals and prioritizing responses and engagement to those that seem to be the most impactful on their interests. We also found that there is a great difference not only in the approaches that First Nations take to manage referrals, but also in the amount of time and resources given to the referral process. Some of the staff that we interviewed see the management of referrals, including detailed responses to each application, as an exercise of the Nation’s rights and as an important legal paper trail for potential future conflicts or ongoing negotiations. For many First Nations, effective referrals management means greater assertion of guardianship over their territory, and as a way for the Nation to have independent, critical and in-depth understandings of the cumulative impacts of activities within their territories. Others see the referrals process as reactive and ineffective in exercising the rights of the Nation, and an overwhelming and burdensome process that takes time and resources away from more meaningful engagement with industry.

The underlying issues and varying opinions about the referrals process indicate the need for a significant improvement in the way in which industry and government interact with First Nation Groups. Having a practical and effective system in place for managing referrals, such as one of the software tools described herein, can and will continue to play an important role in supporting First Nations Groups in asserting increased sovereignty over their territories and resources.


For those of us living in the Lower Mainland, a lot of the resource extraction in BC has been ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Our hope is that this atlas will help people better understand the true scale of changes to our province’s landscapes, and their impacts on rural communities and First Nations like Blueberry River.

The 2016 Atlas shows that the Province of BC has not only continued industrial development in the area, but has done so at an accelerated rate, despite its knowledge of the worsening cumulative effects on BRFN traditional territory. Our goal in helping to put it together was to help the Blueberry River First Nation convey the sense of urgency they feel about protecting their treaty rights, which are currently under threat from exploration and exploitation in their traditional territory.

The Atlas was commissioned by Blueberry River First Nations and David Suzuki Foundation and authored by Ecotrust Canada.


Selected Key Findings:


While 60% of BC is considered intact forest landscape (shown in green), Blueberry River’s traditional territory is only 14% intact.



Of the total area in BC reserved for pipelines via tenures, 46% falls within Blueberry River’s territory (shown as red and gray lines).



Active oil and gas tenures (shown in red) cover nearly 70% of the territory.



The 2016 Atlas builds upon a previous 2012study of cumulative effects in the Peace Region whichrevealed a stark picture of the scale and rate of industrial impacts on the natural landscape of the area. The province has been made aware of these disturbances many times over the last few years, including through the filing of a court case by BRFN against the Province of BC which cites the continued destruction of BRFN lands.

This legal battle is one example among many of the lingering disconnect between government and First Nations. Our hope is that by making information more transparent and accessible, First Nations can better pursue their treaty rights and decision-makers can reach more equitable solutions for all.


Perhaps that last one isn’t a classic combination – yet. But it’s not for lack of effort. Data scientists and designers are embracing the happy marriage of these two disciplines, and the results are bringing greater understanding to the world around us.

Data visualization is the reinterpretation of numbers and facts in ways that are appealing and accessible to all. It throws an artistic light on rigid science, translating cold, hard, data in terms that everyone can understand and appreciate. Throw in some online wizardry and you’ve got charts and maps that come alive, inviting you to explore otherwise unappealing information.

At Ecotrust Canada, we’ve embraced data visualization wholeheartedly. From our mapping roots to newer web technologies, we’re exploring ways to make information accessible and understandable to the people who need it most.

data banner

Click to visit data.ecotrust.ca


Interactive Visualizations

We launched data.ecotrust.ca in 2014 as a hub for some of our favourite data visualizations. Using open data sets from fisheries and forestry, we’re shedding light on fishing licence and forest tenure ownership, salmon harvests, cultural values, and more.

Our data site is also home to two interactive reports. In 2014 we released the interactive version of Understanding Values in Canada’s North Pacific, which examined the values supported by the commercial fishing industry beyond mere dollars and cents. In 2015 we released Caught Up in Catch Shares, a look at the changes brought about by the introduction of fishery quotas and other privatization schemes. Both combine narrative, photography, and compelling data visualizations to tell their stories.



Since our inception, we have been lending our mapping expertise to First Nations conducting traditional land use and occupancy mapping projects. In recent years, we have also mapped forestry tenures, fisheries management, potential impacts of oil and gas pipelines, landscape management plans, and more.

Venturing online, our team has also embraced interactive data visualization through several mapping portals:

Interactive or static, online or in print, the act of mapping puts people’s stories on the landscapes to which they are so irrevocably tied – a true intertwining of people and place.


Graphs and Illustrations

For all the glitz and flash of the digital world, we’re happy to report that good old print media has not been forgotten. We bring the same design principles – grounded in our in-depth knowledge of the subject at hand – to static graphs and illustrations, lending insight and clarity to complex data.

Regardless of medium, we strive to tell a visual story tailored to our audience. As wonderful as spreadsheets are, we do what we can to make data useful and inviting, illuminating otherwise-hidden patterns and insights.

During interviews, elders and other community members locate and describe their important places. Each community member’s sites are documented on a biography map to show their relationship with the land. These individual biography maps are then joined into a community map known as a hodgepodge map.

Hodgepodge maps provide at a glance, a sense of the community’s overall patterns of use and occupancy, while at the same time protecting the information of each individual. Hodgepodge maps can also be created for themes, such as plant gathering or hunting sites, and used for presentation purposes and resource management planning.


Cumulative Effects Assessments

These studies identify the changes to environmental, social, cultural, and economic values – including Aboriginal rights and title – created by the combination of past, present, and future events. Instead of analyzing all possible changes to the landscape, these assessments focus on the issues most likely to be affected by a proposed development.

In BC, a Cumulative Effects Assessment is required as part of an environmental assessment. The cumulative effects assessment considers values that stakeholders – both First Nations and industry – identify as being important that could be affected by the proposed development. These values can be from the natural or human environments, with scientific, ecological, economic, social, cultural, archeological, or historical importance.


Case Study

When Kinder Morgan Canada proposed their Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), one BC First Nation was asked to inform Kinder Morgan of the potential impacts of their work. Since the proposed pipeline would intersect their traditional territory, this Nation had to document its past and present land-use practices in order to assess the potential impact of the TMEP on their environmental, social, cultural and economic assets and values. Through this work, the Nation hoped to:

  • Preserve the knowledge of the Nation’s elders
  • Inform and advise industry of historical and current uses of the Nation’s land, and
  • Document the TMEP’s effects in combination with other past, present, and future events

The Nation asked Ecotrust Canada to support them in this process by conducting both a Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study and a Cumulative Effects Assessment. Our shared goals were to:

  • Develop methods that would allow the Nation to gather information from as many members as possible within a limited timeframe and budget; and
  • Ensure that the Nation could effectively communicate the events that have affected their pre-European way of life, particularly in relation to terrestrial, aquatic, and cultural resources


Study Design

In partnership with the Nation, Ecotrust Canada designed a three-phase study:

  • A Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study with more than 25 Elders, aged 55 and older
  • A Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study with more than 25 members, aged 30-54
  • A focus group interview with more than 10 members that informed the Cumulative Effects Assessment

The Land-Use and Occupancy questionnaires were collaboratively designed to capture information on the Nation’s terrestrial, aquatic, and cultural resources across 7 broad categories: animal kill sites, earth material collecting sites, fixed cultural sites, overnight sites, plant and wood collecting sites, trapping sites, and travel routes.

The Cumulative Effects Assessment we conducted drew on discussions with a focus group from the Nation, as well as a number of secondary sources, such as Kinder Morgan Canada’s Cumulative Effect Assessment, ethnographic accounts, archeological studies, oral testimonies, and technical studies pertaining to the Nation’s traditional territory. The assessment helped to clarify and illuminate the systematic way in which cultural identity and land use have been eroded over time through a combination of factors, both natural and imposed.



Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study participants identified more than 2,000 sites within their traditional territory traditional territory. Nearly 10% of these sites were within the 150 meter wide TMEP corridor, and more than 30% were located within 500 meters of the corridor’s boundary. Almost 30 travel routes intersected the TMEP corridor, showing how the corridor could potentially limit or alter access and use of the sites.

The Cumulative Effects Assessment described the ways in which this Nation’s use of their traditional territories had been eroded over time by a number of factors and events, including:

  • The 1782 smallpox epidemic
  • The 1858 Fraser River gold rush
  • The 1884 potlatch law
  • The 1888 BC fisheries regulations that prohibited indigenous fishing for commercial use
  • The residential school system
  • The construction of the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby in 1953
  • Possible impacts of Kinder Morgan Canada’s proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project

The Nation submitted the final report, including all theme and hodgepodge maps, analyses, and interview excerpts, to the National Energy Board in May 2015. The report illustrated how the TMEP, in combination with the lingering effects of historical events, would significantly increase pressures on the Nation and harm their ability to exercise their Aboriginal rights and title.

The combination of the Traditional Land-Use and Occupancy Study and the Cumulative Effects Assessment supported the Nation in clearly and effectively informing Kinder Morgan Canada of the potential impacts of their proposed developments. This project also helped reintroduce the Nation’s younger generation to their heritage as the Nation’s elders shared stories about their culture, traditions, relationship with the land, and ancestors’ daily lives prior to European contact, preserving this knowledge for generations to come.


The goal of the AMN is to facilitate the networking of First Nation and Indigenous mappers and to address current issues relevant to Aboriginal mapping. It does this by providing access to a collection of resources that will give answers to common questions regarding mapping, information management, GIS and other technical issues, as well as publishing best practices on these. In building this network, a venue has been created where people can share experiences, information and ideas, thus promoting communication and enhancing community work. By teaming innovation and technology with community vitality, bridging hierarchical gaps between decision makers, technicians and communities, the AMN assists people to use GIS as a tool to assert Aboriginal Rights and Title.

The beginning

Established in 1998 as a non-profit, joint initiative of the Gitxsan and Ahousaht First Nations and Ecotrust Canada, the AMN began life as a simple knowledge sharing forum for local First Nations technicians, leaders and decision makers. It has since become a valuable strategic resource for practitioners of traditional knowledge mapping around the world.

How it works

Acting as a virtual library service, the AMN aids in effective information management, GIS, resource management and environmental planning by providing a forum to diversify knowledge base and learn from others facing similar issues.

Content and direction of the AMN is decided by First Nation committees and through website feedback. Ecotrust Canada takes responsibility for maintaining the website, co-hosting workshops, facilitating publications, and assisting with fundraising.

The AMN supports four main areas of activity:

An AMN website

A dynamic, interactive website, nativemaps.org hosts a wealth of information where mappers can find information that includes: data sources; training resources; funding; and relevant, timely news stories.

International conferencing & workshops

The agendas for mapping and GIS conferences are usually set by industry or government, rarely addressing issues from a local perspective. To help change this, the AMN is committed to periodically hosting an international conference, where First Nations present mapping issues and oversee planning. The AMN also hosts informal workshops on common themes that surface from website feedback and direct discussions with First Nations and GIS technicians. Examples include:

  • Moving Traditional Use Study Information Into a GIS: Challenges and Methods, co-hosted with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation;
  • Crown Land Referrals: A First Nations’ Approach, co-hosted with the Sliammon First Nation;
  • Provincial Data for Landscape Analysis: Limitations and Applications, co-hosted with the Heiltsuk Nation.


The AMN partners with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to co-produce a publication series relating to cultural mapping and land use and occupancy research. This has led to dozens of useful publications, including:

  • Living Proof: The Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys, Terry N. Tobias;
  • Chief Kerry’s Moose: A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection, Terry N. Tobias
  • A Voice on the Land: An Indigenous Peoples’ Guide to Forest Certification in Canada, Russell Collier, Ben Parfitt and Donovan Woollard.
  • A New Trail—a funding guide written to help First Nations finance their GIS and planning activities.

Access to tools

The AMN gives users access to a number of tools, developed in partnership with members, to help inform decision making on land and water use, and help users respond more effectively to third party land development referrals. Examples include Living Atlas and Terratruth.


An interactive thematic atlas focused on the changing geography of a place over time, the Living Atlas is an online mapping tool which allows users to view spatial data and multimedia information related to a community or region without the high cost of commercial software or training.

Living Atlas aims to help communities understand, for instance, how climate change may affect them; how land use changes have impacted the environment; which areas have been logged in the past 40 years; or how human/wildlife interactions have changed. Developed by Ecotrust Canada’s Knowledge Systems & Planning (KS&P) team, in partnership with the Central Region Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Living Atlas was successfully deployed in 2010. It has since been customized for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in Clayoquot Sound (livingatlas.org) and for the Okanagan Nation Alliance (voicesontheland.org).


The goal is to bring together information, projects and ideas from a region in a single location, and provide a means to view this information over time (using a simple time scale slide). Acting as a data repository for information, it allows decision makers and the public to interact with information on different scales, addressing the need to have some information accessible at the watershed level, and some at the localized level. More than this, the Living Atlas supports an appreciation and understanding of the concept ‘everything is one and all is interconnected’. This appreciation is achieved by tracking specific knowledge themes over time through different voices and information types.

How it works

Knowledge is power. How we use that knowledge, however, is key: effective decision-making requires the ability to manage vast amounts of information and data. The Living Atlas gives users this ability.

A technically advanced yet user-friendly web-based mapping tool, the Living Atlas allows people to easily access, and understand, complex data from a variety of government, academic and community sources. This makes it ideal for both educational and community planning use. Features include:

  • A ‘time slider’ tool, displaying data chronology. This gives users a view of changes to a region over time – they can even look into the future to see projected changes, such as temperature and rainfall;
  • Data grouped by theme;
  • Multimedia content – a place to store and share cultural data, such as photos, videos, stories, traditional place names and historical documents.

The technology

All components are built with open source software to ensure low development and implementation costs. Open source software is computer software that is available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change and improve the software. Open source software used in the Living Atlas includes:

  • Django Web Development Framework
  • OpenLayers – a Javascript library for displaying map data in web browsers
  • Postgres/PostGIS relational database
  • MapServer – Spatial data visualization
  • jQuery

Future projects

We are working to upgrade and enhance the existing system to make further use of Living Atlas:

  • First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) The FNTC has commissioned Ecotrust Canada to enhance Living Atlas to meet requirements for future installation in more First Nations communities. This as part of the effort  to improve decision-support and innovative land use planning tools.
  • First Nations Health Atlas In partnership with the FNTC, work has begun on the creation of the Online First Nations Health Atlas, to be used by all 203 First Nation bands in BC and a wide range of health practitioners and analysts. This project comes at a time when First Nations are taking control of health data and services.


Current partners include: Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations; Okanagan Nation Alliance; as well as other First Nations, communities, municipalities and schools.


The Living Atlas was co-funded by Geoconnections Canada, Ecotrust Canada, The Clayoquot Central Region Board, RBC Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and an anonymous foundation. Graphic design was done by Skipp Design.

Terratruth is an online tool that supports Indigenous communities in their efforts to track and evaluate the impacts of proposed land and water use in their territories. This secure site has controlled access to prevent unauthorized viewing and use of sensitive local knowledge.

Developed by Ecotrust Canada’s Knowledge Systems team, the first phase of this tool was developed in partnership with the Lil’wat and Haida Nations, and partially funded by GeoConnections Canada. Additional enhancements were funded by the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

Objective /

Terratruth supports communities in making decisions around land and water use by enabling information sharing related to their territories. The tool is easily accessible by multiple non-technical users in standard web browsers.

How it works /

Formerly known as the AMN Decision Support System, Terratruth is a data-driven tool, providing users with the means to assess the impact of a proposed land use activity using existing data in their region/territory. This is done using one of the following methods:

  • creating the shape by manually drawing it in the application;
  • uploading an existing shape (in ESRI format); or
  • uploading a scanned image, geo-referencing/rectifying that image, then manually digitizing the shape.

Once a shape has been created, it is shown on a map alongside existing data. An automatic report can calculate the exact amount of area that is impacted, based on customized questions corresponding to each data layer. The results can be used within an overall decision process to assess the value and/or impact of the proposed activity.

Terratruth requires user authentication for access to the site. This ensures all data and sensitive local information remains protected. Other features include:

  • Data encryption – Terratruth employs Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt data and provide communication security while online;
  • Customizable reporting;
  • Image rectification (i.e. rubber sheeting) – allows users to merge images taken from multiple perspectives into a common map coordinate system, particularly useful for including old, traditional maps in modern GIS format;
  • ESRI Shapefile upload or creation to
    spatially describe geometries;
  • Metadata management;
  • Place names and historical documents;
  • GIS shape export to Google Earth for further visualization.

The technology/

All components are built with open source software to ensure low development and implementation costs. Open source software is computer software available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change, and improve it.

Open source software used in Terratruth includes:

  • Django Web Development Framework
  • Postgres/PostGIS relational database
  • OpenLayers – a JavaScript library for displaying map data in web browsers
  • MapServer – Spatial data visualization
  • ExtJS – User interface widgets

Projects /

  • The Northeast Superior Forest Community in Ontario deployed Terratruth as part of their efforts to improve visualization of data, and support their alternative forest management processes.


The Skeena Watershed Initiative

The SWI is a collaborative planning process comprised of Fisheries & Oceans Canada, the Province of BC, First Nations, commercial and recreational harvest interests, watershed based conservation organizations and local governments involved in the conservation and management of Skeena salmonids and their habitat. The SWI works to support implementation of Canada’s Policy for the Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon, including the policy’s objective to maintain the integrity of the diverse freshwater, coastal and marine habitats upon which salmon depend. The SWI website is under development.


This project sought to compile information about sockeye salmon habitat in an accessible format, in order to
  • support the implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy by providing the best available information for decision making in watershed management;
  • inform and engage decision makers and the general public about sockeye habitat;
  • build a foundation of information, maps and data organization that can be expanded upon over time.
The final products of this project include:
Electronic versions of all products can be downloaded from links above, or obtained on DVD free of charge by emailing skeena@psf.ca.
If you would like more information about the project, or have information to add to future editions of these materials, please email skeena@psf.ca.

In February 1991, Líl’wat members were protesting the building of logging roads near Ure Creek in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Engineers were blasting rocks and destroying sacred pictographs depicting legends and marking ancient burial sites. The protest culminated in civil disobedience, dozens of arrests and ultimately court. Jones became a court-ordered native observer in the tense dispute that dragged on for months.

“Where’s the evidence? Show me pictures of the rock paintings that have been destroyed,” asked the presiding court judge.

“I don’t have pictures or evidence,” Jones replied.

He then made it his personal mission to map and photograph heritage sites throughout Líl’wat territory—a time-consuming and difficult task in the heavily forested, rocky terrain. Never again would he be without legally defensible evidence about Lil’wat use and occupancy of their lands.

It has been a long road, involving all manner of roadblocks, in the fight for Aboriginal title and rights since then. In the 1997 Delgamuukw decision, the Supreme Court defined Aboriginal title for the first time and recognized oral history as admissible evidence in court. One of the primary ways to record oral history is through maps.

That landmark legal decision, along with treaty negotiations, spawned Aboriginal mapping offices across the province. Like many First Nations in the 1990s, the Lil’wat began to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map their territory and create a traditional use study. GIS is a technology that collects, manages and analyzes knowledge of the land and waters.

With support and GIS training from Ecotrust Canada, the Líl’wat Nation have launched a permanent GIS Program not only to produce maps to legally prove use and occupancy, but to manage local resources in an integrated, comprehensive way. The GIS Program is key to the Líl’wat exercising management authority over their entire territory.

“My approach to GIS is very basic: information has to inform decision-making,” says Sheldon Tetreault, senior administrator for the Lil’wat in Mount Currie. “It’s a challenge to take information to Band Council and present information that’s useful for decision-makers. Maps provide a focal point for discussion. Once you bring out a map, everyone gathers around and points out areas and stories.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” adds Liz Jones, Director of Lands and Resources for the Lil’wat. “The maps easily show what the problems are and what the solutions can be. GIS takes it to the next level where you can do analysis, answer questions and resolve conflicts.”

Competition for resource use in the Sea-to-Sky corridor between Squamish and Lillooet is intense. The Líl’wat alone receive some hundred requests (known as “referrals”) for various development permits every year. Already, 140 independent power projects have been proposed in the region. With so many demands on the land — from new real estate development and the 2010 Olympics to fisheries and forestry — the Líl’wat need to integrate decision-making.

“Through GIS and proper planning, we can avoid or minimize conflicts between resource users who may have conflicting demands for use of our rivers, lands and wilderness,” Tetreault says. “We have to look through three lenses — economic, cultural and environmental — before we make a decision about land and resource uses.”

The Líl’wat are pulling together maps and information from every department under one roof. More than 700 maps have already been catalogued in a unique digital database, which is being shared with other First Nations.

“I thought GIS was just about making maps, but it’s more than that,” says Leroy Joe, the Lil’wat’s GIS Technician. “It’s more involved. There are people, software, hardware, data collection—all of this is integrated into the system.”

Along with the Lil’wat’s values, adds Liz Jones.

“The GIS office is about getting the Líl’wat Nation’s vision out there,” she says. “I go to meetings with government officials and they have their maps. My vision is to come with our own maps rolled up under our arms that describe our own vision. Information is power.”

After more than five years of community consultations, research and government negotiations, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council released an historic land-use plan for their territory in 2005 which covers the heart of BC’s Central Coast, a region that has been the centre of environmental conflict for the past decade with environmentalists calling it the Great Bear Rainforest.

“The Heiltsuk Land Use Plan represents our vision of management for our territory. It will help us govern our territory as rightful landowners,” said Ross Wilson, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in 2005. “We have never ceded title and rights to our land, and we expect the Province of British Columbia to respect this in their upcoming decision on wilderness protection and economic development in our territory.”

Several months after the Heiltsuk plan’s release the provincial government announced its decision on land-use that largely respected the Heiltsuk’s vision.
“It’s really historic that they’ve engaged in this process at a government-to- government level and clearly articulated their land-use vision and resource vision,” Gordon Goodman, a BC government spokesman, told the Vancouver Sun upon the plan’s release. “For us, it’s a very positive step so we can understand what we need to do in our planning process.”

The plan, titled For Our Children’s Tomorrows, called for the creation of “Natural and Cultural Areas” to protect pristine wilderness and Heiltsuk traditional use. In all other areas, economic development activities, including forestry, must be conducted according to the principles of ecosystem-based management (EBM) defined as “a strategic approach to managing human activities that seeks to ensure the co-existence of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems and human communities.”

Heiltsuk Territory encompasses about 16,770 square kilometres of land and an additional 19,000 square kilometers of near-shore and offshore areas extending to international waters. About 8,270 square kilometres or 49 percent of the land base is protected as Heiltsuk Natural and Cultural Areas.

“The recent Throne Speech set a goal to eliminate, within 10 years, the inequities plaguing First Nations and highlighted ‘the Crown’s legal and moral duty’ to consult on decisions impacting Aboriginal title and rights,” said Wilson. “I believe our land-use plan can be the foundation of a new relationship, which would recognize us as the original stewards of the land and resources, and key to economic development. Our plan could be a model for how First Nations, government, industry and environmental groups work together to balance human needs and environmental protection.”

The land-use plan provides general management direction for ten key resource sectors including cultural heritage, plants, forests, wildlife and biodiversity, hunting and trapping, beaches, fresh water, tourism, minerals and energy, and wilderness access. In all sectors, the Heiltsuk call for the conservation of cultural and natural resources, and Heiltsuk priority access to resources for cultural and sustenance use.

“Cedar is extremely important for our cultural survival, but we’ve witnessed over- harvesting of old-growth cedar in our territory. This must stop,” said Harvey Humchitt, a Hemas or hereditary chief. “The Heiltsuk need to be involved with the logging plans and development proposals in our territory. We want to see ecosystem-based management, not the industrial liquidation of our natural and cultural assets.”

The land-use plan’s release came shortly before a major announcement by the Province about wilderness protection on the B.C. coast. In January 2004, the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning (CCLRMP) table, consisting of representatives from communities, labour, environmental groups, tourism, forest companies and recreation interests, reached an unprecedented consensus on land-use recommendations for BC’s Central Coast.

Since then, environmental groups have raised tens of millions of dollars in conservation investments to finance sustainable economic development for First Nations and local communities in the region. In 2007, the federal government announced its funding contribution to the so-called Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, which included protection of over two million hectares of coastal temperate rainforest. The contribution secured an additional $60 million pledged by private Canadian and US donors, as well as $30 million promised by the BC government.

For seven years, Ecotrust Canada worked with the Heiltsuk Nation on their land-use planning vision and helped the First Nation implement a model for ecosystem-based management in their territory. Ecotrust Canada also worked with the Heiltsuk to begin their marine-use planning process.

Guiding Principles

A “living document,” the Heiltsuk Land Use Plan will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, as new information is gathered. It is not intended to set in stone a rigid collection of rules. Rather, it is a guide that is flexible and practical. Gvi’ilas, the Heiltsuk’s set of customary laws, serves as the paramount principle for managing resources. Other guiding principles, in order of priority, for land management include:

  • Ensure conservation of natural and cultural resources
  • Ensure Heiltsuk priority access to resources for cultural and sustenance use
  • Enable appropriate Heiltsuk commercial and recreational use of resources
  • Enable appropriate non-Heiltsuk commercial and recreational use of resources

Land-Use Designations

  • Cultural and Natural Areas are managed to maintain their natural and cultural values, while maintaining or enhancing opportunities for traditional use and minimizing adverse impacts on natural and cultural values. The areas will be kept largely in a natural or wilderness condition, although low-impact tourism and access may be permissible.
  • Ecosystem-based Management Areas are managed according to EBM principles and practices. The areas provide appropriate opportunities for resource development while maintaining or enhancing opportunities for traditional use and minimizing adverse impacts on natural and cultural values.

Key Policy Statements

  • Ecosystem-Based Management: Past resource management approaches have failed. Thus, the Heiltsuk support the guiding principles of EBM, believing they are consistent with Gvi’ilas, the Heiltsuk traditional way.
  • Salmon Aquaculture: Fish farming adversely affects the health and long-term survival of wild Pacific salmon. Therefore, the Heiltsuk do not support salmon farming as it is currently practiced.
  • Offshore Oil & Gas: The Heiltsuk have serious concerns regarding the safety and advisability of engaging in offshore oil and gas development and exploration, and therefore are not supportive of these activities in their territory.
  • Old-growth Cedar: If industrial logging of old-growth cedar continues at the same rate as the past 15 years, there may be a future shortfall of large old-growth cedar for Heiltsuk uses. Thus, logging must be done cautiously to ensure that cedar is sustained forever.
  • Protected Areas: Any federal or provincial government proposals for designation of new parks, conservancies, nature reserves or other legislated protected areas require consultation and co-management with the Heiltsuk Nation.
  • Referrals & Consultation. Consultation is initiated through a formal written submission to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and shall be considered completed only when the Heiltsuk and other parties have reached mutual agreement.

Download the Executive Summary (3.8MB PDF)