This First Nation Just Declared 40,000 Hectares A Landmark Indigenous Protected Area 

Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation proclaimed an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) near Port McNeil.

A building belonging to the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation
The traditional territory of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis encompasses one of the most resource rich areas in the province. Photo credit: Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation

In a historic move, thirty hereditary chiefs from the Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation (KHFN) gathered in Sooke on November 16th to sign an agreement declaring 40,000 hectares of ancestral land as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). The proclamation covers Hada (Bond Sound) and Kakweikan (Thompson Sound) within the Broughton Archipelago, just east of Port McNeill on the mainland. The decision marks a significant step in the Nation’s efforts to safeguard their land, waters and abundant resources for future generations. 

“This IPCA represents our vision for a future where all beings thrive.”

Rick Johnson, Hereditary and Elected KHFN Chief, Tlakuglus

“This IPCA represents our vision for a future where all beings thrive,” said Hereditary and Elected KHFN Chief, Tlakuglus, Rick Johnson, in a statement. “Upholding our laws will ensure that the medicines, the foods, the cedar, the salmon, the eulachon and all of the maʼmikas [natural resources] that are sacred to our people will always be there.”

Saving Pacific Salmon

Under the new designation, vital watersheds, cultural and village sites, and important ecological habitats will be protected. The Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation has been outspoken about protecting Pacific salmon from being overfished to extinction on their territory. They have been critical of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its bureaucracy, which has been slow to respond to their growing concerns. 

A map showing the protected area of the Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation.
To the Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis, the protected areas are Nawalakw (supernatural and sacred) and crucial to their nuyambalis (ancestral stories from their Territories that tell their core values and history). Photo credit: Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation

As a result, the Nation decided to move forward to protect those species and the surrounding land under their own ancestral laws. Unlike a federally-mandated Marine Protected Area, the KHFN independently declared the region an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area according to their constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Rights. 

In a press release, the KHFN called the IPCA “the next step in protecting all salmon migratory routes and ensuring wild salmon populations will be safe from harmful industrial activities moving forward.” Other culturally important species covered by the IPCA include eulachon, littleneck clams, and Pacific herring. 

Banned Fish Farms

Earlier this year, the KHFN was part of a coalition of Broughton Islands First Nations, including the ‘Namgis and Mamalilikulla, that decided to remove all Atlantic salmon fish farms from their territories. “Sadly, we have been witnessing the devastating decline and collapse of wild salmon and other marine species in our territories that have been the foundation of our food, culture and way of life for millennia,” Johnson said in a statement at the time

Fish farms are linked to the transfer of disease to wild salmon. Photo credit: Jessie Eldora Robertson on Dreamstime

The Kwikwasuti’nuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation’s new IPCA will be neighbouring the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala IPCA declared by the Mamalilikulla First Nation in November 2021. The Skeen recently spoke with Mamalilikulla Chief John Powell about the significance of his people returning to their territory after a century in order to protect it according to their own ancestral law. 

Provincial Support

The KHFN announcement was made with no government representatives present, but BC Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen said he was not surprised and that his government supports 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 to Chek News.

“Natural resources will be better protected, food security will be advanced, Indigenous employment will increase, and the economy will stabilize.”

Hereditary Chief Dr. Robert Joseph

“In the era of reconciliation, supporting the KHFN with their IPCA is the right thing to do. Natural resources will be better protected, food security will be advanced, Indigenous employment will increase, and the economy will stabilize,” stated Hereditary Chief Dr. Robert Joseph in the release. “The government should welcome a partnership with KHFN on this IPCA. Everybody wins – Crown governments, KHFN, the territory and the public.”

The KHFN also stated their IPCA plan is part of a broader effort for cultural revitalization. Some of the land will also be used for the development of the Nawalakw Healing Centre and Cultural Youth Camp, with cultural and language programs held year-round. 

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