Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw communities gain control of forest lands in three-year project

Over the next three years, Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaw communities will get exclusive rights to two parcels of land and $600,000 from the provincial government to train and equip Indigenous foresters.

Together the two parcels measure roughly half the size of Kejimkujik

Chief Rod Googoo of the We'koqma'q first nation called Friday a "historical day." (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaw communities are gaining access to thousands of hectares of land owned by the province and $600,000 in an agreement designed to give Indigenous communities a stake in Nova Scotia's forestry sector.

Chief Rod Googoo of the We'koqma'q first nation called it an "historical day."

"We want to play a greater role in the forestry sector of Nova Scotia," said Googoo. "We want to develop a Mi'kmaw forestry sector that provides jobs, opportunities, but does so, in a way that respects our inherent responsibilities to the forests as stewards of this land." 

Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin said the aim of the three-year pilot project is to "increase Mi'kmaw capacity in forestry and to explore the viability of Mi'kmaw-led forestry as an alternative means of forest management on two areas of Crown land."

Parcels measure 20,000 hectares

The two parcels together measure 20,000 hectares, roughly half the size of Kejimkujik National Park.

One, called the Digby block, is south of the Bear River reserve land. The other, St. Croix block, is just below Ellershouse in Hants County.

"In size, they are more than double the area of all current Mi'kmaw reserves in Nova Scotia put together," said Googoo. 

The Digby block was once owned by the Irving Group of Companies, while the St. Croix block was once part of Bowater land.

It will be up to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs to come up with management plans for both parcels.

Guided by Netukulimk

Googoo stressed that while trees would be harvested, Mi'kmaw foresters would be guided by Netukulimk,  a principal that recognizes the pursuit of economic well-being must be done without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment.

"We want to be able to do what we feel is a more traditional form of forestry work which involves less mechanized equipment," said Googoo.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin is shown with Chief Rod Googoo and Chief Terry Paul. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The plan is to replant areas that are harvested.

"We want to make sure that the lands that we work on are kept in the best shape possible without causing any further damage to the forest or the environment," he said.

Julie Towers, Lands and Forestry deputy minister, described the St. Croix land as having abundant softwood and the Digby parcel as a mixture of white pine, red oak, spruce and fir.

Although forestry is a key part of the agreement, Googoo said the land would also be used to teach children about the Mi'kmaw culture and traditions and used as a place to gather traditional medicines.

"When we look at a forest, we don't see profits," said Googoo. "We view the forests as also being part of our classroom, our kitchen.

"It's not just about cutting down trees."