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Reconciliation in Canada’s Marine Shipping Industry (II)

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What efforts are being undertaken by the marine shipping industry to help advance reconciliation?

“Reflecting on my first year working with Clear Seas, I have seen real effort from some organizations in the marine industry who have committed to reconciliation. We have strengthened relationships with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada which are based on addressing related priorities, mutual understanding, and Indigenous-led research. This means that Clear Seas does not set the agenda for the research being done in Indigenous communities; we listen, understand, provide resources and support when needed and share the community’s concerns by providing them avenues to have their voices heard.

I would like to acknowledge the marine industry organizations and institutions that have taken steps towards reconciliation through education and addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. This is a small step for the marine industry to foster meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities, but it is a positive step.”

– Sarah Thomas, Manager of Indigenous and Coastal Community Relations

sarah thomas


It has been a year since Clear Seas published an overview of what reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of Canada means to the marine shipping industry. Here are some highlights of developments that have taken place since then.

Born out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report of 2015, the issue of reconciliation took even greater meaning during 2021 with the news of many undocumented graves containing the remains of more than 1,300 children on the grounds of former residential schools. It served as a painful reminder to Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians of this sad and dark period of Canada’s history. This tragedy will be marked in a new national holiday for federally regulated organizations every September 30th as a way to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation which will help Canadians learn about and reflect on this legacy. Clear Seas will be closed to allow staff and its board and research advisory committee to reflect on this day.

After Clear Seas’ blog was published, some marine organizations contacted Clear Seas to see how they could approach reconciliation and establish a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Since then, Clear Seas has made the topic a high priority and worked to elevate the profile of reconciliation in marine shipping research.

This blog provides an overview of some of Clear Seas’ work, initiatives by the federal government and developments elsewhere in the marine shipping community. It is not an exhaustive summary but provides highlights of reconciliation activities from the past year. Clear Seas invites organizations, companies, and individuals to share their stories about reconciliation in the marine shipping industry and will publish updates in upcoming blogs.

Clear Seas focuses on reconciliation

For its part, Clear Seas has integrated reconciliation into its operations by establishing an Indigenous and Coastal Community Relations department and recruited Sarah Thomas, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, to offer guidance in this key area. The organization has a clear mandate to advance Sarah’s work as well as incorporate Traditional Knowledge1 into its research agenda. This fits into a wider approach to create a working research culture that embodies reconciliation in all Clear Seas’ work.

Clear Seas is guided by the TRC call to action to adopt and enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For Clear Seas, this means meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in the research program. It also involves incorporating Traditional Knowledge into research. The process has also necessitated education and training for the wider Clear Seas team to fully understand the issues concerning Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation, as well as acquiring the necessary skills to deploy the reconciliation process.

In partnership with Mitacs, Clear Seas created a program for Indigenous internships providing an opportunity to engage with coastal communities on marine shipping issues. This not only allows Clear Seas to develop meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities to better reflect its priorities in research but will also help train a future generation of leaders.

Clear Seas also commissioned two research projects related to Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation in 2021. It partnered with a team led by Dr. Lucia Fanning at Dalhousie University on the maritime governance project Supporting Inuit rights and marine use: A visualization of shipping regulations and policies governing commercial vessels in Nunavut waters. The project builds on the work already underway in partnership with the Government of Nunavut, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and all 25 Hunters and Trappers Associations in the territory in an initiative called Coastal Restoration Nunavut (CRN).

A second project was commissioned on Demystifying Maritime Governance in partnership with Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which had a stream on engaging with Indigenous Peoples. This research stream investigated the Government of Canada’s approaches to engaging on shipping governance in Canada and explored how Indigenous rights and reconciliation are being reflected in those processes. Aiming to provide context and clarity on the collaboration processes between government and Indigenous nations, the research outlines some of the key challenges of engagement and provides case study examples of thoughtful, relationship-focused collaboration. The results of this research help provide an overview of what the federal government has accomplished in this area as it relates to marine shipping and some of the barriers and issues that it still faces.

Reconciliation in Canada’s public service

A starting point for reconciliation in the federal government and those departments that work with the marine shipping industry is for the education of public servants as set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #57. As part of the Dalhousie research funded by Clear Seas, it acknowledged the challenges of prioritizing relationship-building and open communication when collaborating on shipping-related projects. Engaging Indigenous Peoples has not traditionally been part of the core business of key departments and agencies involved in shipping governance in Canada (Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard), and there is not always sufficient budget and time for the necessary cultural competency training for public servants. Gaining trust and building strong working relationships can be expensive and time-intensive, especially if consistent trips to visit remote communities are required. The personal commitment to communities required by public servants investing in these long-term relationships is complicated by frequent changes in job assignments and departments.

Oceans Protection Plan supports reconciliation

Some parts of the centerpiece Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) have initiated the learning and relationship-building required to advance reconciliation in shipping governance. In a report issued by the OPP, as of March 2021, it has held more than 1,600 engagement sessions, including over 1,199 engagement sessions with Indigenous groups, with the goal of modernizing marine safety and environmental protection in Canada. Some accomplishments have seen the OPP:

  • Provide $3.7 million to 16 Northern and Indigenous communities to buy search and rescue boats and equipment, to participate as members of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.
  • Deliver training in emergency response and waterway management to Indigenous communities and provincial government employees to assist in marine safety in their communities.
  • Co-launch the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary in the territorial waters of Ahousaht and Heiltsuk First Nations.
  • Increase financial support and spending flexibility for the Arctic Coast Guard Auxiliary chapter to allow them to continue to build search and rescue capacity in the North.
  • Approve $5.8 million through the Indigenous and Local Communities Engagement and Partnership Program for 21 projects with Indigenous groups across the country.

First Nations have embraced many of these initiatives. Alex Dick, Chair, Coastal Nations – Coast Guard Auxiliary (CN-CGA) captures some of the enthusiasm for these projects: “We are excited to welcome all five nations to the team, it’s an amazing experience to feel the camaraderie and dedication of the volunteers towards ensuring effective marine search and rescue services for people in distress throughout B.C.’s coastal region. As the Executive Director of CN-CGA, Canada’s first Indigenous-led Coast Guard Auxiliary, I’ve seen the organization grow significantly since it began. I foremost recognize the critical role of First Nation communities as members of the Auxiliary in protecting mariners and coastal communities. They are simply the most experienced stewards of the marine environment and are unquestionably vital to Canada’s marine safety system today.”

Proactive Vessel Management supports Oceans Protection Plan reconciliation

The Proactive Vessel Management (PVM) initiative is one component of the OPP and key elements of this work included partnerships and ongoing engagements with Indigenous communities in remote areas on Canada’s coasts. The initiative sought to develop a national framework to guide the implementation of a PVM approach across Canada that was informed by multiple stakeholders and Indigenous Peoples. Engagements through virtual and open dialogue sessions began in 2017, though a unique element of this work included its partnerships and in-person relationship building through three pilot projects with Indigenous communities on the Pacific coast and two in the Arctic.

The draft National PVM Framework offers the following key questions to ask when designing engagements, that the Dalhousie researchers believe could be a sound framework for others:

  • How are the rights of those affected by decisions respected?
  • Do Indigenous partners have the capacity and funding to take part effectively from the outset?
  • What is a formal leadership role for Indigenous peoples in the context of nation-to-nation and Inuit-Crown relationships?
  • Do barriers to participating exist, such as funding, language, time, travel, or technical skills? Are the timeframes reasonable?
  • Have the full range of interested and affected parties been identified?
  • How is trust built and maintained among members, partners, and stakeholders?

One example is the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority which has developed a new collaborative system with Transport Canada under the Anchorages Initiative. It will manage marine vessel traffic and optimize the supply chain flow for this strategic gateway by March 31, 2022, and will see active outreach to Indigenous groups. The plan will work to reduce negative social impacts such as ambient noise and light pollution by reducing overall anchorage usage in Southern British Columbia and implementing a code of conduct for vessels at anchorage.

Industry, educational and not-for-profit sector take a leading role

The marine shipping industry has taken several initiatives over the past 12 months to actively engage in reconciliation. Many of these actions take place at an operational level as part of ongoing corporate social responsibility programs. Clear Seas has identified a number of highlights and programs the industry has developed. They provide an overview and are by no means exhaustive.

Haisla Nation works with Seaspan and LNG Canada to build escort and harbor tugs

Although the project was announced in 2019, HaiSea Marine, a joint venture partnership between the Haisla First Nation and Seaspan ULC, continues to work on a 12-year project with LNG Canada to design, build and operate escort and harbour tugs required for the LNG export facility in Kitimat, BC.

“HaiSea Marine is majority-owned by the Haisla,” says Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation. “Our agreement with Seaspan ensures our members will have access to employment, training and procurement opportunities on the contract with LNG Canada. The opportunity to work locally in the marine industry is of great significance to the Haisla people.”

In supporting the project, Peter Zebedee, CEO of LNG Canada said, “We are committed to helping advance reconciliation.” He added that, “Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission made clear that true reconciliation includes economic reconciliation: Access to jobs, training and education, and ensuring that Indigenous communities acquire sustainable, long-term benefits from assets such as ours.”

Educating a new generation of Indigenous mariners

It is expected that reconciliation will take many generations to address. A centrepiece of this process is taking place in the area of post-secondary education including developing apprenticeships as explored in last year’s blog. One of the largest First Nations’ educational initiatives in the marine industry was set up in April 2019 in partnership with two BC post-secondary schools – Camosun College and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) – to offer an Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating (BWR-E) program.

With federal support through the Oceans Protection Plan, the program reduces barriers for people who are underrepresented in the trades and to offer skills training needed for an entry level job on a commercial vessel. The program includes courses such as Bridge Watch Rating (BWR-E) Training and Restricted (radio) Operator Card, Basic Safety Training, Marine Basic First Aid and Basic Survival Craft. That program continues to produce impressive results with 43 Indigenous graduates out of a total of 84 for 2021. Seven of those Indigenous graduates are female.

On Canada’s East Coast, the Pathways to Shipbuilding program was established three years ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to get Indigenous students involved in shipbuilding trades. It is a joint venture that provides mentoring and instruction in partnership with the local Indigenous community, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), and Irving Shipbuilding Inc., with the goal of putting reconciliation into action.

NSCC president Don Bureaux told Maclean’s Magazine,2 “It [the program] does lend itself to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he says. “At its core, that terrible time in the history of Canada was caused by education. Now it is the education sector’s responsibility to help by healing and coming together in reconciliation.”

The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Society helped select Indigenous candidates and Nova Scotia Community College offered a two-year diploma in metal fabrication. Irving provided on the job training and hired successful graduates. Also speaking to Maclean’s, Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Society executive director Pam Glode-Desrochers says, “I talk about this being an actual truth and reconciliation project.”

Twelve Indigenous students have now graduated from the program and 11 are enrolled as of late 2021.

Pathways to Shipbuilding.
The graduating class from the Pathways to Shipbuilding for Indigenous Students program have been offered full-time employment at Halifax Shipyard, building, and maintaining the Royal Canadian Navy’s fleet
Source: Irving Shipbuilding

Skills training for urban Indigenous youth

Back on the West Coast, in mid-2021, Seaspan Shipyards announced a $1.35 million investment to increase training and apprenticeship opportunities for Indigenous students aged 19 through 30 interested in building a career in the trades, including in the growing shipbuilding and marine sector.

The three-year investment is being made in the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS), a non-profit organization that has been providing education and employment training for urban Indigenous youth since 1999. Interviewed in a Seaspan video, Lynn White, President & CEO of the organization said, “Our partnership with Seaspan has allowed us opportunity. It has really given us the chance to take people out of high school, put them in a trade and have them have a job that they can go to, a meaningful job that can change their life.”

Seaspan’s investment will support skills upgrading and technical training in welding and metal fabrication through another trades program at BCIT. Beginning in 2022, Seaspan’s investment will also help establish a Trades Sampler Program to introduce Indigenous high school students in five Vancouver-area districts to career opportunities in the trades. Seaspan’s investment will also support an annual $25,000 Seaspan Student Scholarship fund. Since 2016, Seaspan has invested more than $4.3 million in ACCESS as a commitment to Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Helping Indigenous mid-career professionals create opportunities

The Ocean Supercluster (OSC) Indigenous Career Pivot project was launched to create work placements for mid-career professional Indigenous Peoples wishing to explore career options in the ocean economy. The $1.2 million project supports the employment of Indigenous peoples in OSC member companies over a 12-month period. “The goal of the program is to create opportunities for indigenous people who could be mentored and supported within these roles to fit with their career development,” says Ralph Eldridge, Indigenous Engagement Lead for the OSC.

“A core component requires that all companies and their mentors within their organizations, and the individuals themselves, participate in a three-day cultural competency and a reconciliation exercise,” Eldridge says. There are nine participants enrolled in the program in 2021 with an additional 17 new opportunities planned for 2022.

For the OSC, the commitment to Indigenous Peoples and Reconciliation is a core pillar of its operations. Writing in the Toronto Star, Donna Augustine, an Elder from the Elsipogtog First Nation and Kendra MacDonald, the CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (OSC), say it’s important to bring what is known in from an Indigenous perspective as an “eagle’s view” to decision making — taking into account what effect these actions will have over the next seven generations. To that end, the OSC believes that an Indigenous perspective is essential to ensuring the health and productivity of the oceans.

Reconciliation at Canada’s ports

Ports are involved in reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and are required to work closely with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, as they use and develop their traditional lands and waters.

In November 2021, the Musqueam Indian Band and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority signed an agreement to ensure a strong, meaningful long-term relationship to advance a shared future built on mutual respect and the principles of reconciliation. The agreement was developed by both parties to work together to uphold the rights of the Musqueam for a productive and collaborative future.

BC government works with First Nations to address ocean waste

In late 2020 the BC government announced a new reconciliation program under its Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund. The goal is to work with a number of organizations including coastal Indigenous Nations by providing more than $9.5 million for projects to clear B.C.’s shores of marine debris and derelict vessels. The projects will create jobs and support coastal communities as they recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn.

“Marine cleanup programs are a critical part of reducing pollution in these sensitive ecosystems and protecting fish and other marine life, as well as important food sources,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “These projects will remove tonnes of debris, create new jobs and provide much-needed support to local governments, Indigenous communities and other groups to address marine pollution.”

The program directly responds to concerns raised by local governments and individuals included abandoned vessels, mooring buoys, polystyrene foam, aquaculture debris and single-use plastics. This has been described as “waste colonialism” by the head of one environmental group in the Clear Seas blog Shipping Containers Overboard.

The Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative received $1.3 million to plan and implement shoreline cleanup projects in their communities, identify and prioritize food gathering areas for clean-up and provide training and jobs to community members, including youth. The project was completed in mid-2021, with nine communities involved, 50 paid workers trained, and 200 kilometres of shoreline inspected and/or cleaned.

Reconciliation in action: Marine Plan Partnership receives inaugural BC Reconciliation Award

In recognition of marine management and the importance it has for Indigenous Peoples, the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) received the inaugural BC Reconciliation Award in April 2021. The award recognizes individuals, groups and organizations who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, integrity, respect, and commitment to furthering the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in BC.

The MaPP initiative is a partnership between the Province of British Columbia and 17 member First Nations that developed and implemented marine use plans for BC’s North Pacific Coast. The MaPP region is divided into four sub-regions: Haida Gwaii, North Coast, Central Coast and North Vancouver Island. The initiative used the best available science and local and Traditional Knowledge to develop four sub-regional plans and a regional action framework.

Christine Smith-Martin, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said they are proud to support member Nations for their work with MaPP in developing and implementing marine use plans. “The unique partnership between our communities and British Columbia is a powerful example of reconciliation in action.” Communities that are partners in MaPP include Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate and Council of the Haida Nation.

Making reconciliation a personal commitment

There is evidence that a new way of working with Indigenous peoples is starting to transcend into elements of shipping governance beyond the federal government’s OPP. Government, industry, port authorities, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations are making great strides. But as researchers from Dalhousie found, to facilitate reconciliation in the long-term, the importance of the process must be internalized by everyone no matter where they work. As one interviewee described to the researchers, as opposed to “this is what we have to do; what we’ve been told to do,” reconciliation has to become a personal value, “the right thing to do.” Each person must take on a personal responsibility to contribute to reconciliation, regardless of the sector or context. In everything the marine shipping industry does, we must all ask ourselves and each other, no matter where we work: “What are you doing for reconciliation?3


1 Traditional Knowledge is a body of knowledge specific to Indigenous people. It comes from their cultural heritage, traditional lifestyles, and the strong relationship they cultivate with the natural environment. Traditional Knowledge includes deep understanding and insights into traditional subsistence and resource harvesting practices as well as extensive knowledge of environmentally sensitive and culturally significant coastal areas.
2 Maclean’s. (2020). Making waves in modern shipbuilding.
3 Malcolm Saulis, Elder and University Professor, unpublished.

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