The sound of chanting and drumming echoed across the ancestral land and central waters at the origins of the Mamalilikulla First Nation for the first time in over a century on Thursday.
Over 100 members and guests made the long boat trip to Gwa̱xdlala/Nala̱xdlala – (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound) in Knight Inlet on British Columbia’s remote central coast – to mark the ceremonial return of the Mamalilikulla to the site of the ancient village as guardians of their territory.
Unfazed by gray skies and driving rain, the Mamalilikulla celebrated the nation’s dedication of 10,416 hectares of land and sea in their traditional territory as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA).
In addition to laying a solid foundation for reconciliation and conservation, the IPCA restores a spiritual home for a nation displaced and dispersed by colonial policy, said Mamalilikulla Winidi’s chief adviser, or John Powell.
“It is a way to restore and maintain our connection to the land, seas and skies, and the natural, cultural and spiritual resources within the IPCA,” Powell said.
The nation’s ties to the region are strongly reflected in oral and written history, Powell said, some of which include colonial records rejecting Indian reservation proposals for land along Knight Inlet and either side of the river. Lull and its critical estuary.
In the early 1970s, the last remaining members of the nation were displaced from their traditional territory and Village Island, many of whom fell victim to the residential school system.
Most Mamalilikulla First Nation (MFN) members grew up outside of their traditional territories, Powell said.
“Very few have ever been here to Gwa̱xdlala/Nala̱xdlala,” he said, momentarily overwhelmed with emotion.
Mamalilikulla First Nation’s declaration of an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area also restores a spiritual home for a people displaced and dispersed by colonial policy, says Chief Councilor Winidi, or John Powell.
“Having so many members of our community here today, to begin this reconnection, touches my heart.”
The protected area includes three ancient village sites and other areas of archaeological significance, such as shell middens, fish traps and petroglyphs.
The vital watersheds and estuaries of Lull and Hoeya are critical habitat for salmon, vital feeding grounds for grizzly bears and black bears, and important for birds such as the endangered marbled murrelet and slender hawk. pigeons.
However, the region’s watersheds – once home to abundant populations of spawning salmon and Knight Inlet’s eulachon runs – have been decimated by industrial activities such as logging and commercial fishing.
The Mamalilikulla will now protect and enhance the IPCA in accordance with the ancient law of Aweenak’ola, Powell said.
“Our ancestors…gave us the responsibility to steward this earth – our seas and our skies and our connection to the supernatural – and to protect, defend, nurture and house all creatures that come from all of these.”
DFO notoriously absent from IPCA celebration
Recognizing the Government of British Columbia as an ally in the IPCA process and a delegation of employees from the Ministry of Forests and the new Ministry of Lands, Water and Resource Stewardship, Powell announced that the nation had just signed a letter of commitment with the ministries to develop an agreement on joint decision-making in the region, as well as land management and long-term financing plans.
Powell also thanked Chief Robert Joseph, Reconciliation Canada Ambassador and Member of the Order of Canada and British Columbia, for hosting the ceremony, as well as neighboring nations for their presence and support of the IPCA.
No representative of the federal government participated in the debates, in particular anyone from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
A unique biological hotspot of cold-water corals and sponges in Hoeya Sound is included in the marine aspect of the IPCA, Powell said, but the Mamalilikulla have made no progress in securing DFO cooperation for a moratorium on commercial fishing around the fragile marine ecosystem.
“If there’s one disappointment we share right now, it’s the inability to engage in dialogue with (DFO),” he said.
As a result, the Mamalilikulla have appealed, with some success, to the commercial fishing and prawn fishing sectors to voluntarily avoid the coral garden to avoid destruction from fishing gear dragging on the seabed. .
“We are very pleased to have been able to begin this dialogue with fishing organizations on our IPCA, and intend to continue to take a strong leadership role in the absence of DFO, which is supposed to be responsible for the protection marine habitat,” says Powell.
Chief Joseph said sacred places in traditional territories such as the Gwa̱xdlala/Nala̱xdlala areas in Knight Inlet need the attention of their ancestral stewards.
“They have been alone for a long time and need special attention,” he said. Canadian National Observernoting that it is fortunate that some government agencies are increasingly recognizing that indigenous knowledge is essential to saving ecosystems.
“I’m glad I lived long enough to see a new acceptance around our shared responsibilities,” Joseph said.
“It’s so important, and it means we might have a chance to save these places.”
The constant downpour during the event did not deter elders dressed in brightly colored rain ponchos from joining dancers in traditional dress as they surrounded a crackling fire.
‘Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanvik reflected on the mood as he began his address to the rally.
“A little rain can’t lessen the significance of this day.”
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada