Indigenous

Mi'kmaw-led conservation trust takes over Mary Harper Nature Reserve in Cape Breton

A Mi'kmaw-led conservation trust has taken stewardship of a 23-hectare nature reserve in Cape Breton, in a ceremony earlier this week.

'To be given back our land, it makes a big difference,' says Wagmatcook Chief Norman Bernard

From left, Jacinta MacKinnon, Wagmatcook Chief Norman Bernard, Sespite'tmnej Kmitkinu Conservancy co-ordinator Erin Dann and Bras d'Or Preservation Nature Trust board of directors member Henry Muggah at the community cultural centre. (submitted by Trish Nash)

A Mi'kmaw-led conservation trust has taken stewardship of a 23-hectare nature reserve in Cape Breton, in a ceremony earlier this week.

Wagmatcook First Nation in Nova Scotia is just a kilometre away from the land and Chief Norman Bernard said being entrusted as its stewards again is a significant moment.

"Mi'kmaq have been here for thousands and thousands of years and to be given back our land, it makes a big difference," said Bernard. 

The Mary Harper Nature Reserve, along the Bras d'Or Lake Biosphere Reserve, was a part of Harper's summer home and upon her death it was donated to the Bras d'Or Preservation Nature Trust in 1993. It was provincially designated as a nature reserve in 2011.

Roughly two years ago the Bras d'Or trust began looking for someone to take over stewardship because its board members were aging, and began talks with the Mi'kmaq.

The Mi'kmaq set up the Sespite'tmnej Kmitkinu Conservancy to hold the lands in trust for the community and paid for the legal fees for the transfer.

Conservation easements restrict development on the land but as stewards, Mi'kmaq will be allowed to practise ceremony and harvesting, said Bernard.

"Our land is very important and sacred to us," said Bernard.

Neither the federal nor provincial governments were part of the discussions to move stewardship of the lands to the Mi'kmaq.

Conservancy can take on other lands

A ceremony was held in Wagmatcook, about 56 kilometres from Sydney, N.S., to mark the transfer of stewardship.

Bras d'Or Preservation Nature Trust board of directors member Henry Muggah said there was smudging, hand drumming, and community elders shared how they used the land in the past.

Muggah said the land will be in good hands.

"I think it's terribly important for us to recognize original ownership," said Muggah, 80.

He said the Mi'kmaq share a common goal of maintaining the area's ecology and hopes other private land owners consider entrusting their estates to the Mi'kmaw conservancy.

Erin Dann, co-ordinator with Sespite'tmnej Kmitkinu Conservancy, said it holds lands on behalf of the Mi'kmaq and for the Mi'kmaq to use and manage as they see fit.

The conservancy was incorporated over a year ago and can take on other conservation easement trusts. Dann said they will look to expand Indigenous protected and conserved areas.

Bernard said his community is expanding and spent $300,000 to purchase about 560 hectares of land last year. 

"We have to secure the future of our kids," said Bernard. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

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