Up close with the data, and work, of Indigenous guardians along B.C.’s Central Coast

In our latest newsletter, we look at journalist Jimmy Thomson’s feature on the Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and Kitasoo/Xai’Xais nations’ guardian programs

There isn’t a whole lot of federal or provincial monitoring along parts of B.C.’s thousands upon thousands of square kilometres of coast. Coastlines where people get into life-threatening boating accidents. Where poachers sneak out their crab traps. Where oil spills occur and where some of the world’s most magnificent species hang out.

But know who is there to see all this unfold? Indigenous guardians. 

And so, back in 2019, reporter Jimmy Thomson began to wonder: could we get a better sense of just how much of a monitoring and conservation gap these Indigenous land stewards are filling?

Turns out we could — and it’s a heck of a lot. Guardians, who are out on the land and the water on a daily basis, are patrolling massive areas along the coast. Not only that, but these individuals are saving lives, collecting data, filling conservation gaps and reinforcing their sovereignty in the process.

All those details are beautifully captured in this sprawling feature we published over the weekend, a kind of visual journalism we’ve never done before. But before you check it out, let me tell you a little bit about the two-plus-year odyssey to make it all happen.

Jimmy got word in February 2020 that his story pitch, centred on the neighbouring Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and Kitasoo/Xai’Xais nations’ guardian programs, had been selected for the inaugural Data Journalism Grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Humber College’s storyLAB.

We all know what happened next: March 2020. Yeah, that. 

The pandemic meant Jimmy had to radically alter his travel plans (no planes to the remote area, for starters), but he managed to eventually get the all-clear to visit Wuikinuxv territory, where the community welcomed him with both strict COVID protocol and open arms. That’s not to mention the generosity of all three nations when it came to sharing their patrol data.

“I knew from previous reporting trips for guardian-related stories, both on the Central Coast and in the North, that Indigenous guardians produce a lot of data in the course of their work,” Jimmy tells me. “I asked the Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and Kitasoo/Xai’Xais if they would be willing to share that data, and, incredibly, they all did. I’m still blown away by that openness — try asking the Coast Guard or the Parks people for data sometime. I did, and, well, you didn’t see any in the story, now did you?”

Journalist Jimmy Thomson.
Jimmy has been reporting on guardians programs since 2019 — work that helped inform this project. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

When Jimmy filed the piece, patrol data and all, we knew it was the perfect chance to take The Narwhal’s visual storytelling to new heights. We started thinking: ‘how can we truly transport readers to these patrol waters?’ It was a metric tonne of work for everyone involved — extra resources we were able to pour into this stunning feature thanks to the generosity of the 4,300 members who help fund our journalism.

Looping drone footage to kick things off? ✔️
Layered and interactive maps? ✔️
Video interviews with guardians? ✔️
Satellite imagery? ✔️

“The guardians are covering basically the entire coast within their territories,” Jimmy says. “Every inlet, every island — everywhere. It’s truly amazing the reach they have. No government agency that patrols that coast has anywhere near that penetration into the complex geography of the area.”

Those eyes on the ground and water are so critical — and the federal government is starting to recognize that with increased funding. The Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and Kitasoo/Xai’Xais guardians programs are among more than 70 in different stages of development in Canada, mostly in remote regions that would otherwise lack monitoring and first-responder capacity.

We hope you can find a bit of time to read, watch and interact with Jimmy’s story to get a glimpse of the value of the work being done on these lands and waters.

Take care and mind the patrol gap,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

The Narwhal is hiring

Calling all up-and-coming journalists: The Narwhal is hiring an audience fellow!

We’re accepting applications from candidates who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour for a role focused on understanding, expanding and engaging with audiences on social platforms to help strengthen the impact of our journalism.

At The Narwhal, we regularly report on stories that deeply impact the lives of Indigenous and racialized communities across Canada, especially as many of these communities grapple with the ongoing pressures of natural resource extraction and environmental racism.

Yet, too often these stories aren’t reaching the very people who have long been underrepresented in media coverage in this country. Our audience fellowship — a position at the intersection of journalism and community building — is designed to help change that.

The deadline to apply is March 29. Spread the word and read more about the gig!

The Narwhal in the world

Clockwise, from top left: Noor Javed, Steve Buist, Sheila Wang and Emma McIntosh.
Clockwise, from top left: journalists Noor Javed, Steve Buist, Sheila Wang and Emma McIntosh. Their work received an honourable mention from the Canadian Hillman Prize.

You’re probably already familiar with Emma McIntosh’s top-notch reporting for The Narwhal on the Ontario government’s plans for Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. It’s a critically important story that Emma has been covering for years — and now her investigative work on the file is being recognized for excellence in service of the common good.

The Canadian Hillman Prize has bestowed an honourable mention for a trio of investigations by reporters at Torstar/Toronto Star and Canada’s National Observer (Emma’s previous stomping grounds). 

We’re lucky to have Emma on our team and we can’t wait to see what other scoops she’s got up her sleeve as the provincial election looms!

This week in The Narwhal

Nuchatlaht take fight for heavily logged territory to B.C. Supreme Court. Here’s what you need to know

Nootka Island clearcutting from the air

By Judith Lavoie

Extensive industrial clearcutting destroyed salmon streams on an island the B.C. government says the Nuchatlaht ‘abandoned.’ Now the nation is taking the matter to the province’s highest court in the first case to cite the precedent-setting Tsilhqot’in land title decision. Read more.

Something stinks: Ontario politicians have dodged York Region’s sewage problem for 13 years


By Fatima Syed

Georgina Island First Nation and other residents aren’t convinced a new treatment plant will protect Lake Simcoe from more wastewater. With $100 million already spent, the Ford government is now proposing a pipe built under the Oak Ridges Moraine to an alternate facility. Read more.

Canada’s zoo animals are getting vaccinated against COVID-19

A photo illustration of a gorilla over a background of viruses.

By Denise Balkissoon

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved the emergency use of the Zoetis vaccine. It’s in limited supply, so this shipment is being shared between just six zoos across the country. Read more.

What we’re reading and streaming

Globe and Mail: The highway that disappeared: How the B.C. flood changed lives forever along Highway 8

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