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Keepers of the Coast

Keepers of the Coast takes a close look at how the Kitasoo/Xai'Xais, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nations are stewarding their marine territories along the central coast of British Columbia.

The central coast of British Columbia is one of the most spectacular and biologically rich places left on the planet – where temperate rainforest intertwines with the living Pacific. The Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai'Xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv–who have inhabited the central coast for thousands of years–have joined forces, forming the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, otherwise known as CCIRA. Using a combination of traditional knowledge and science, the nations are committed to upholding their Indigenous laws and stewarding these marine resources in a manner that sustains their cultures and ensures intact ecosystems, healthy communities and local sustainable economies, now and into the future.

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This Rare, White Bear May Be the Key to Saving a Canadian Rainforest

The white Kermode bear of British Columbia is galvanizing First Nations people fighting to protect their homeland

This Rare, White Bear May Be the Key to Saving a Canadian Rainforest

By Alex Shoumatoff; Photographs by Melissa GrooSmithsonian Magazine

Very quietly we paddle to shore in a raft from the research vessel, which has stopped at the mouth of a small river cascading into the Pacific, one of more than a hundred salmon-bearing rivers in the 1,500-square-mile territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people. We’re halfway up the coast of British Columbia, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, in one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. We climb out and sit on boulders in the intertidal zone, in front of a meadow. Behind it is primeval forest, a solid wall of trees—western red cedar, Sitka spruce, alder, hemlock, Douglas fir
A crow let out two clarion caws as we came in, and now every animal within earshot knows of our arrival. The humans are back. Four of us have mounted serious lenses on tripods, and we are all waiting motionlessly, respectfully. Big gobs of meringuelike foam drift down the final run of the river into the seething surf. “Organic matter,” whispers our guide, Philip Charles, a 26-year-old Brit who has a bachelor’s degree in animal conservation science and has been made an honorary Kita­soo for all the work he has done to help these First Nations people reassert sovereignty over their homeland, and to get ecotourism going.

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Spirit Bear Legend, Vancouver Island por sheiro en Flickr 

El oso blanco Kermode o el oso “espíritu” de las costas de Canadá; nada los vincula con los osos polares del Artico cercano, ni tampoco con los osos albinos. Son una rara subespecie, una verdadera contradicción viviente: un oso negro de color blanco.

Los aborígenes canadienses como los Kitasoo / Xai’xais cuentan la leyenda de que hace unos 10 mil años, cuando el hielo glacial cubría la corteza terrestre, el creador adoptó la forma de un cuervo “Raven”. Al sobrevolar aquel mundo congelado, ahuyentó el frío y surgieron bosques exuberantes. Pero para que nadie olvidara aquel gélido pasado, convirtió cada décimo oso a blanco y prometió que vivirían en paz y harmonía para siempre.

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This Rare, White Bear May Be the Key to Saving a Canadian Rainforest            

The white Kermode bear of British Columbia is galvanizing First Nations people fighting to protect their homeland

by Alex Shoumatoff

Very quietly we paddle to shore in a raft from the research vessel, which has stopped at the mouth of a small river cascading into the Pacific, one of more than a hundred salmon-bearing rivers in the 1,500-square-mile territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people.

We’re halfway up the coast of British Columbia, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, in one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. We climb out and sit on boulders in the intertidal zone, in front of a meadow. Behind it is primeval forest, a solid wall of trees—western red cedar, Sitka spruce, alder, hemlock, Douglas fir.

The white bear is known to the Kita­soo as the Moksgm’ol, the spirit, or ghost, bear. The Kitasoo have been living on these coastal islands and fjord-diced tongues of mainland for thousands of years. They revere every living thing, but the Moksgm’ol is especially sacred. It is one of the rarest bears on earth.

There are as few as 100, according to some estimates. Scientifically, the white ones, along with their closest black relatives, belong to a subspecies of black bear: the Kermode bear, Ursus americanus kermodei, named in 1905 for Francis Kermode, who helped zoologists find the bears and later became the director of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria…

(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)

photographs by Melissa Groo