The Squamish Nation and BC Parks signed a landmark agreement last week that gives First Nations people more involvement in the management of lands west of the Squamish River.
The agreement covers lands in and around the Esté-tiwilh/Sigurd Creek Conservancy area, Brackendale Eagles Park and Tantalus Park, and affects about 13,000 hectares of land.
Much of the land within the agreement was already protected through previously created park and conversation plans.
A signing ceremony was held at Totem Hall in Squamish on Thursday (Feb. 16) to formally recognize agreements between the Squamish Nation and the provincial government.
The details of the agreement are outlined in a 38-page management plan.
One of the Brackendale Eagles Park objectives stated in the document is to maintain a hunting closure in the park except "for First Nations for food, social and ceremonial purposes."
The document also notes the Squamish Nation will have "enhanced access" to the park for potential economic opportunities for guided fishing and nature viewing trips.
Hereditary Chief and elected band councillor Ian Campbell said the Squamish Nation traditional territory has been heavily impacted and the traditional way of life for the Squamish has been adversely affected. He said three Squamish Nation objectives are to preserve the wilderness values, continue with traditional hunting, fishing and gathering and create economic opportunities for the young members of the Squamish Nation.
"We're trying to find ways to preserve and protect and maintain our traditional customs and connection to the land," said Campbell.
Campbell went on to say that the province is fine with the Squamish Nation using the land for traditional uses as long as those uses are non-commercial.
"Since when did we ever give up or cede or surrender any of our rights to... generate economy for ourselves, which is something we have enjoyed for millennia?" he questioned.
He pointed out that recently the Squamish Nation has been involved in wildlife planning and rehabilitation. Salmon enhancement, eagle protection and the re-introduction of Elk to the Squamish area are initiatives the Squamish Nation has previously participated in. A number of times over the last two weeks a group of about six or seven Elk has been spotted in various areas of Squamish.
According to Campbell, logging and mining potentially fall under the Squamish Nation definition of traditional uses, but in the protected areas described under the management plan he said he doesn't see those activities taking place.
"We've always utilized quarries and we made wonderful tools out of all types of volcanic obsidian out of our territories so we're absolutely not opposed to economic opportunity like that, but it is when, and where and how those things occur," he said. "It is really finding the voice for the Squamish to be at the table as a government within this land to have more decision-making and true co-management or joint decision-making."
He noted that the objective for the lands under this agreement is to preserve the wilderness values for everyone, not just the Squamish Nation.
According to the management plan, archaeological sites have been found next to Tantalus Park along the Squamish River. There is a cultural site located near the Lake Lovely Water access trail at the park boundary.
The trail to Lake Lovely Water passes over privately held land and in the past the owner has closed the trail section.
"B.C. Parks and Squamish Nation will explore options to establish a protocol to improve public access to the Lake Lovely Water trailhead and river crossing through Indian Reserve #11," reads one section of the management plan.
Squamish eagle advocate Thor Froslev was at the signing on Thursday with about 50 other people, mostly from the Squamish Nation and B.C. Parks.
"The more areas we protect and the stronger that protection is, the more likely we can bring our ecosystem into better health and maintain the habitat for the species that depend on our wild areas and their resources," Froslev said of the management plan.
Work on the agreement dates back to 2007 when the Squamish Nation and BC Parks agreed to work collaboratively in the Squamish Nation traditional territory.
A Conservancy Management Plan was created for Esté-tiwilh/Sigurd Creek as part of the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan. The Esté-tiwilh Wild Spirit Place is located on the west side of the Squamish River between the Ashlu and Elaho watersheds.
Brackendale Eagles Park includes Baynes Island Ecological Reserve, which is located in the Squamish River.
The provincial park on the west side of the Squamish River is primarily a conservation area. Campfires, camping, trail development; mountain biking, horseback riding and many other activities are banned. Fishing and rafting are two permitted park uses.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said the creation of the agreement came about through "the work of a very committed group of people."