A Mi’kmaq-run conservation trust took over stewardship of a 23-hectare nature preserve in Cape Breton in a ceremony earlier this week.
Wagmatcook First Nation in Nova Scotia is just a kilometer from land and Chief Norman Bernard said being in the care of his stewards again is a significant moment.
“The Mi’kmaq have been here for thousands and thousands of years and having our land returned to them makes a big difference,” said Bernard.
The Mary Harper Nature Preserve, along the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve, was part of Harper’s summer home and upon his death was donated to the Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust in 1993. It has been designated by the province as a nature reserve. in 2011.
About 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 created the Sespite’tmnej Kmitkinu Conservancy to hold the lands in trust for the community and paid the legal fees for the transfer.
Conservation easements restrict development on the land, but as stewards, the Mi’kmaq will be allowed to perform ceremonies and harvest, Bernard said.
“Our land is very important and sacred to us,” Bernard said.
Neither the federal nor the provincial government was involved in discussions to transfer stewardship of the lands to the Mi’kmaq.
Conservancy may take other lands
A ceremony was held in Wagmatcook, approximately 56 kilometers from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to mark the transfer of stewardship.
Henry Muggah, board member of the Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust, said there were smudges, hand drums and community elders shared how they used the land in the past.
Muggah said the land would be in good hands.
“I think it’s extremely important for us to recognize original ownership,” said Muggah, 80.
He said the Mi’kmaq share a common goal of maintaining the ecology of the area and hopes other private landowners will consider entrusting their estates to Mi’kmaw conservation.
Erin Dann, coordinator of the Sespite’tmnej Kmitkinu Conservancy, said she holds land in the name of the Mi’kmaq and the Mi’kmaq can use and manage it as they see fit.
The conservation was incorporated over a year ago and can support other conservation easement trusts. Dann said they would seek to expand Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.
Bernard said his community is growing and spent $300,000 to purchase about 560 hectares of land last year.
“We have to secure the future of our children,” said Bernard.