Meet the Surf Scoter: A biodiversity indicator for Gitxaala Nation

If there is one thing we know about life on Earth, it’s that humans cannot exist without being in relationship to the natural world around us. Indigenous ways of being teach that we are a part of nature, not the owners of it: resources are gifts, not commodities. And, the only way to ensure the health and longevity of any life on Earth is by being in good relations with the living world. Western Science calls this biodiversity. 

The Key Biodiversity Area Partnership (KBA) is a partnership of 13 global organizations that are leading efforts to identify and protect key biodiversity areas across the globe. They describe the importance of biodiversity as the following: “The diversity of life on Earth—the entire array of plants, animals and their habitats, collectively known as “biodiversity”—is essential for a healthy planet where all life can thrive, including humans. But the loss of biodiversity is occurring at an alarming rate across the planet.”

There are many reasons an area may be classified as a biodiversity hotspot including being a habitat to an at-risk-species, or being a rare ecosystem that may be irreplaceable if harmed. The north-coast homeland of the Gitxaała Nation is one such area. With the Nation heading to court April 3, 2023 over mineral claims in their territory that were registered without notification, consultation or consent, we want to look at how this Key Biodiversity Area is at risk under B.C.’s current unjust and antiquated ‘free mining’ system. 

The Mineral Tenure Act (MTA) in B.C. currently allows corporations — or anyone with access to the internet and $25 — to stake mining claims without the Free, Prior, and Informed consent of the Indigenous Nations whose territory they are staking. Gitxaała Nation is leading a legal challenge that has the potential to change this outdated gold-rush era law. If the environmental racism and unjustifiable colonialist tactics weren’t enough to spark outrage in you and get you to support Gitxaała: we want to introduce you to the surf scoter. 

The surf scoter is a marine duck that lives on the coast of the Great Bear Sea — specifically, on the island archipelago that Gitxaała Nation calls home. These unique sea ducks are endemic to North America, and are currently experiencing a decline in population — along with most of their kin across Turtle Island. While the surf scoter is classified as “least concerned” on the endangered species list, the B.C. Conservation Data Centre (CDC) has designated them as a Blue List Species. According to the CDC, a Blue List designation is defined as “Species or ecological communities of Special Concern that have characteristics that make them particularly sensitive or vulnerable to human activities or natural events.” And it is the Blue List classification of this little marine surfer that qualifies part of Gitxaała territory as a Key Biodiversity Area.

So what happens to the surf scoter if mining claims all over the Northern Coast of B.C. continue unchecked? What happens if pollution from this industry threatens the mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, or small fish that the surf scoter feeds on? And what is the greater impact on the surrounding ecosystem? Honestly — we don’t want to find out. 

To be in solidarity with Indigenous Nations as they lead us back to a way of being where humans act as stewards of biodiversity we need to understand that the land, water and fauna will only thrive when  are in good relationships with ALL living things in an ecosystem — and that means halting harmful human activity in said ecosystems. 

Digital Illustration of a Surf Scoter

As Gitxaała heads to court in April, you can visit RAVEN’s social media feeds for updates — look for the surf scoter in our graphics to get the most up-to-date information on the court hearing. 

Starting March 22nd — World Water Day — donations to the campaign will be TRIPLED! To support Gitxaała’s court challenge, donate here.

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