First Nation reclaims territory by declaring Indigenous protected area in Canada

First Nation reclaims territory by declaring Indigenous protected area in Canada

Persistent rain couldn’t dampen the high spirits of Mamalilikulla First Nation members and their guests on a dark day in May. As lowering clouds played hide-and-seek with soaring mountains, the Nation shared lunch and performed traditional songs and dances in their remote territory on British Columbia’s Central Coast, some 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Vancouver.

The festive event was to dedicate this place as the Gwa̱xdlala/Nala̱xdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound) Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area. Chief Councilor John Powell (Winidi) said it was the first time in more than a century that these songs, these dances had been performed here.

The Mamalilikulla people lived in this rugged area and parts of the Broughton Archipelago for millennia before Europeans arrived. Over the course of the 20th century, band members, who now number around 441, moved from their land to cities and towns throughout western Canada, including Victoria and Vancouver. In 1972, the last people left the last village of ‘Mimkwa̱mlis on Village Island, about 40 minutes by boat from Gwa̱xdlala/Nala̱xdlala. Meanwhile, the government of British Columbia leased the land to logging companies, which clear-cut forests, causing landslides that silted up streams and harmed salmon. The government of Canada issued fishing permits in the coastal waters, allowing damaging practices such as trawling and long trap lines, which continue today.

The Nation declared the Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in November at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, proclaiming its intent to take a primary role in planning, use, management and restoration of the land and water. It plans to also reconnect dispersed band members with their land and create economic enterprises for the Nation, such as wildlife-viewing tourism.

This declaration has been acknowledged by federal and provincial officials, but it remains to be seen whether and to what extent those governments might relinquish authority. The province has established a working group to discuss management plans with the Nation.

Lead Image: Grizzly bear in British Columbia, Canada. Image courtesy of Anthony Bucci.

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