Thirty hereditary chiefs were in Sooke to sign an agreement declaring 40,000 hectares of land as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved area, or an IPCA, on Friday.
The monumental decision to declare this area east of Port McNeill on the mainland is part of the nation’s efforts to protect the land and to protect it for future generations.
Ol Siwid (Mike Willie) is a Kwikwasuti’nuxw Hereditary Chief who made it clear at the declaration that the intentions for the agreement runs deep within his community roots.
“It’s not about money, It’s about where our ancestors walked, it’s about where these ancestors connected,” he said. “It’s about our future generations walking these beautiful places again and occupying our territories.”
The declared protection area includes critical watersheds, ecology, cultural sites, village sites and core habitat for the nation. According to the nation’s law, the declaration is meant to show their intentions to protect the area from harmful industrial activities, to restore bio-diversity, advance food security and revitalize the nation’s culture and governance.
Elected and hereditary Chief Rick Johnson told CHEK News that after more than 20 years, himself and the nation are tired of negotiating with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in order to protect the salmon and other critical wildlife that is important to Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis people in the area.
“The bureaucracy around engaging with the [DFO] is just…. our salmon were disappearing. We as a First Nation have a right to be able to look at our resources and have plans for them and get consent for any type of extraction of our resources,” said Johnson.
During the declaration, no provincial or federal government representatives were present. CHEK News reached out to the DFO for comment but did not receive a response before deadline.
Despite not knowing about the declaration until contacted, B.C. Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen is not surprised with the declaration.
“We see it as an important beginning of the conversation in regards to what the conservation is looking for. We are going to reach out […] I just saw the declaration recently,” said Cullen.
The nations also proudly proclaimed their recent success at removing all fish farms from their territory as proof of their conservation efforts. With this new declaration, their goals in the future include restoring and maintaining cultural and spiritual resources, and culturally important species.