Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqiyik sign declaration to protect Big Salmon River
2 New Brunswick First Nations want to have 'primary role' in protecting culturally significant watershed
Mi'kmaw and Wolastoqey leaders have signed a declaration they hope will lead to the protection of the Big Salmon River watershed, which reaches from almost near Sussex down to the Bay of Fundy.
The two First Nations are working together to establish what is known as an Indigenous protected and conserved area, "where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems."
In a joint news release, the Mi'kmaq and Wolastoqiyik say that would mean no decisions would be made about Crown land use, including mining exploration and commercial forestry, without their written consent.
Tracy Anne Cloud, director of trilateral negotiations at Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn, a non-profit organization that represents the nine Mi'kmaw communities in New Brunswick, helped put the project together.
"We're just really excited to finally get the declaration out and to really let the public know about this area and the importance of the area."
The Big Salmon River includes many significant sites such as a sacred cedar forest, a caribou ambush site, and up to thirty salmon pools, including an overwintering pool.
Cloud said this area is susceptible to damage from logging and forestry projects, which she hopes will change with the declaration.
"We really just didn't feel like it was getting the recognition that it needs to be protected as it deserves"
The watershed will be known as Sa' qewi-ilnuwey Awti in Mi'kmaq, and Kulasihkutomonen Tan Wetapeksultiyoq/Kolasihkotəmənen Tan Wetapeksoltiyəkw in Wolastoqey, according to the statement.
The mouth of the river is protected by the Fundy Trail, but Kerry Lee Morris-Cormier, a co-ordinator for the Fort Folly First Nation habitat recovery program, said the habitat surrounding the headwaters is seriously degraded because of climate change and forest management.
"Poor logging and forestry management with the trees play a pinnacle role in not only habitat for these smaller animals, but they also hold a lot of carbon in their leaves and in their trees," she said.
Nicole Porter, who is also a co-ordinator for Fort Folly First Nation, hopes the declaration will help save the Atlantic salmon and culturally significant sites along the river.
"We as Indigenous people, we've always been caretakers of the land of our Mother Earth," Porter said. "This is in our DNA. This is what we were born to do. And going forward, we can start establishing a healthy forest again."
Visitors are still encouraged to enjoy the area, said Cloud.
"This does not mean the Nations are prohibiting New Brunswickers from visiting this area," the statement said.
"Visitors will be allowed to come, and the Nations may issue permits, subject to their own conservation rules, for recreational activities, hunting or fishing or harvesting."
A spokesperson for New Brunswick's Department of Aboriginal Affairs said government had no comment.