For several years, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society (HSBRIS), a broad network of Indigenous Nations and other communities have been collaborating to get the Átl’ḵa7tsem (Howe Sound) area designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Region. On September 15, 2021, it was officially announced as Canada’s 19th UNESCO Biosphere Region, and the third in British Columbia. 

What is a UNESCO Biosphere Region? 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) oversees the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The goal of MAB is to enhance and promote the relationship between people and the land in culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable ways. It does this by naming areas of environmental diversity and significance as Biosphere Regions. 

There are over 700 UNESCO Biosphere Regions around the world, three of which are in British Columbia. They are not parks, although parks may make up part of the area. They are a way of bringing people together to promote conservation, sustainable development, and learning. 

How has Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw been involved? 

The Átl’ḵa7tsem (Howe Sound) Biosphere Region (AHSBR) falls within Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw traditional territory. Our people have been stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial.

In 2019, the Nation indicated its support for the project following a technical review by Ta na wa Yúus ta Stitúyntsam̓ (Rights & Title) which confirmed that becoming a Biosphere Region does not impact Squamish Rights & Title or decisions regarding use of the land and resources. Rather it is a recognition of this unique territory that our people have cared for and helps protect it for future generations. It also supports the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

The Nation has been closely involved in this exciting initiative and selected a representative to sit on the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society (HSBRIS) Board. In October 2020, Councillor Joyce Williams was appointed as Co-Chair of the HSBRIS Board. 

Receiving this formal designation from UNESCO is just the first step and the Nation looks forward to exploring all the opportunities it presents. 

“My hope is that it will effectively bring all communities in Átl’ka7tsem together for effective decision making but also to help people get out on the Land. Building that connection, to the territory and the Land, will help people better honour and to respect the environment but also the Life that lives in that environment. Átl’ka7tsem is really about beauty and hope, as much as it is about sustainable development.” – Joyce Williams, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw Councillor and Co-Chair of Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society Board

Átl’ḵa7tsem (Howe Sound)

The Átl’ḵa7tsem Biosphere Region is an area of 218,723 hectares spanning the shared territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw and encompasses the entire Howe Sound watershed including: 

The Biosphere Region is home to over 700 unique species of nature and wildlife including rock cod, mountain goats, whales, grizzly bears, and ancient glass sponge reefs to name a few. 

Read more about the location here

More information

Press release – download here 

Fact sheet – download here

Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society website