Wolastoqey Nation studying ways to reclaim traditional harvesting rights

Members of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick are researching the history and customs of their people in an effort to make claim to more meaningful harvesting rights to the land and water that is part of their lives.

Project documenting challenges community members face, while gathering historical research

Deana Sappier is the environmental impact coordinator with the Wolastoqey leadership and resource development consultation in New Brunswick. She is working on a project that's researching history and customs of Wolastoqey First Nation at St. Mary's. (CBC)

Members of the Wolastoqey First Nation at St. Mary's are researching the history and customs of their people in an effort to claim more meaningful harvesting rights on both land and water.

The project involves documenting the challenges they face on their traditional territory, while also looking into how their ancestors used this land, explained Deana Sappier, one of the people working on the project.

Sappier is the environmental impact coordinator with the Wolastoqey leadership and resource development consultation in New Brunswick.

The idea for the project came about during discussions of the Sisson mining project, she said. During that time, community members realized they had very few intact lands left to harvest on, she explained.

"This project is to look at constraints on Wolastoqey harvesting rights, and what we need to do to protect and restore rights going into the future," she said.

For example, the Maliseet used to be able to fish for salmon and trout in the St. John River, but haven't been able to do so for decades, she said.

"So we've basically had a generation that cannot fish for salmon in our river," she said.

"That means our rights have been eroded in this province."

Request for changing laws a possibility 

Coordinators of the study are trying to look "outside the box," so it's hard to say at this point what their recommendations might be, Sappier said.

"We're not saying, 'OK the government is not even going to agree to that, so we're not going to go there,'" she said.

"As far as the study goes, we're looking at all angles. It goes to short term recommendations to long term recommendations."

That could even mean asking the province for legislative changes, she said.

But it's too early to speculate on what those could be.

"We're still gathering information from the province and from our members, in order to say, how do we create a sustainable future? How do we create meaningful harvesting rights, because we know they've been eroded?" she said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton