A new partnership between the province and Squamish Nation was finalized last week during a ceremony at Totem Hall that included dedications, traditional song and dance and the unveiling of a house pole carved by one of the Nation’s artists.
The Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area (SEWA) is the product of almost 20 years of planning. It covers a tract of the 673-hectare estuary, which is used by a plethora of birds and mammals, as well as hikers, kite-boarders, bird-watchers and industry.
“It’s a day of celebration for us as a people,” said Chief Gibby Jacob, adding that the process pitched his Nation against many organizations represented in the audience, including the District of Squamish and the province. “It seems a quirk that we’re all together in this. For a long time, we were at odds.”
Jacob said a shared vision eventually won the day. SEWA emerged from a set of recommendations put forward by the Squamish Estuary Management Plan, a committee that included representatives from BC Rail, as well as local, provincial and federal government officials. First Nations and the public were consulted throughout the process, which began in 1996.
Environment Minister Barry Penner was present for the celebration.
“It’s the hope of the B.C. government that this relationship will be symbolic of the type of relationships we hope to have with First Nations throughout B.C.,” Penner said.
SEWA is designated under the B.C. Wildlife Act. While not a protected area, like a provincial park, it does create management opportunities for wildlife resources. Such resources are a management priority, but, according to the ministry, other uses are possible — such as the removal of gravel from waterways in the interest of public safety and flood protection. Squamish Nation and the Ministry of Environment will work together in establishing any new management strategies.
The estuary has twice been the scene of destructive environmental mishaps. In 2005, a CN Rail accident in Cheakamus Canyon saw some 40,000 litres of caustic fluid annihilate roughly half a million fish. In 2006, 29,000 litres of diesel leaked from a punctured ship visiting Squamish Terminals, which shares land with the estuary boundaries.
Erstwhile District of Squamish councillor and Squamish Environmental Conservation Society member Meg Fellowes said the estuary will only be safe as long as it remains a priority in “the hearts and minds of every man, woman and child” who uses it.
A large house pole, carved by Squamish Nation artist Aaron Nelson-Moody, will stand sentry at the entrance to the newly designated lands.