K’ómoks Guardians: Caretakers for the Land of Plenty

Membership


Revitalizing Stewardship with the K’ómoks Guardian Watchmen Department

Today the Land of Plenty is also a land of development, resource extraction, recreation, and urban growth. Within K’ómoks territory lies the Cities of Campbell River and Courtenay, the Town of Comox, the Villages of Cumberland and Sayward, and communities on Denman and Hornby Islands.

K’ómoks territory is home to significant development including aquaculture, tourism, recreation, and forestry infrastructure. Photo courtesy K’ómoks First Nation.

Immense aquaculture, tourism, recreation, and forestry infrastructure has been developed throughout K’ómoks territory, including 51 shellfish and aquaculture sites, 48 marinas, 11 lodges, 120 marine industrial sites, 68 log handling tenures, 129 recreation sites, and 12 concrete or steel dams.

In 2014, K’ómoks leadership determined to develop a Guardian Watchmen Department to sustainably manage the lands, waters, and wildlife within their territory; support their ongoing treaty process; centralize naturalize resource management under one department; and provide employment opportunities to K’ómoks members.

“Our Guardians are our eyes and ears on the lands, waters, and resources,” says Councillor Hardy. “They’re monitoring activities, they’re creating co-management between K’ómoks and local, provincial and federal governments.”

Our Guardians are our eyes and ears on the lands, waters, and resources. They’re monitoring activities, they’re creating co-management between K’ómoks and local, provincial and federal governments.

Modelled on coastal Guardian departments, including the Gwa’sala-‘Naxwaxda’xw Guardians, the department began as a pilot project in 2014 with funding through Coast Funds’ conservation fund.

Cory Frank has been around since the start of the K’ómoks Guardians. Today he is the department manager and in 2014 he started as a member of a small team—three Guardians including Cory, his brother Randy, a third Guardian Tony Billy.

Seven years later, Cory enjoys reflecting on the growth of the department since their first pilot year. “In our department, it’s absolutely huge growth,” he says. “We’re up to seven Guardians from that original three.”

The first year was a year of learning for the Guardian department. In that first year alone, the Guardians completed training in small vessel operations, swift water rescue, marine first aid, and more. Two Guardians also completed the stewardship training program offered through Vancouver Island University in partnership with Na̲nwak̲olas Council.

Tony Billie was one of three K’ómoks Guardians when the department was established in 2014. Today, there are seven full-time Guardians. Photo courtesy Na̲nwak̲olas Council.

Growth of K’ómoks First Nations’ stewardship endeavours goes beyond the size of its staff, says Scott Harris, resource planner for Na̲nwak̲olas Council. Scott works as part of the Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network supporting the stewardship efforts of five member First Nations, including K’ómoks. He’s seen K’ómoks’ self-determination enhanced by growing their stewardship efforts. “Now they’re able to participate and to be strong and forceful in the protection of their values,” says Scott. “They’re operating on a government-to-government level and taking advice from stakeholders, instead of being seen as stakeholders. The government is really starting to understand that relationship.”

Councillor Hardy points to forest practices as one case study of where Guardian efforts have directly impacted K’ómoks authority and ability to have government-to-government conversations. On private land, forest codes state that harvesting can take place up to five metres of a shoreline, a much narrower limit than the 50-150 metres required on crown land.

“We started looking at the impact of those practices on fish habitats, on groundwater, and surface water and saying to provincial cabinet ministers, ‘we need some changes to your forest practices,’” says Hardy. “We could point to the work the Guardians were doing and share what they’re finding. The work that gets shared with us from the guys out in the field helps us have those conversations.”

Goose Spit, where K’ómoks First Nation raised a Guardian pole on their lands, with financing from their Coast Funds’ endowment. K’ómoks’ territory stretches from Kelsey Bay south to Hornby and Denman Island and is known to the K’ómoks as the “Land of Plenty.” Photo courtesy K’ómoks First Nation.

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