A small island in Cascumpec Bay off Prince Edward Island's North Shore will soon be protected land, and in five years, the Island's Mi'kmaq will become its permanent stewards.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has announced it plans to buy Oulton's Island, or Kwesawe'k in Mi'kmaw.
"When we can find these little gems that seemed to have been spared from threats of development, it's just great to be able to bring them into conservation," said Lanna Campbell, program director for P.E.I. with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
"There's lots of small mammals that use the island, lots of shore birds feed on its shores. It's just this beautiful little spot. And when you're there, you feel like you're sort of intruding on their home," Campbell told Mitch Cormier on Island Morning.
Kwesawe'k, which is about 85 hectares or 210 acres, is made up of salt marsh, wetlands, traditional Wabanaki (Acadian) forest, and four kilometres of beach shoreline. It sits about 400 metres offshore in Cascumpec Bay.
"Every time we go to this island we discover something new. This summer we found nesting great blue heron and double-crested cormorants," said Campbell.
The island was privately owned and the conservancy negotiated the $1.2-million purchase, for which it continues to raise funds.
In five years, the conservancy will transfer ownership of the Island to the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils.
Campbell said her group has been working in collaboration with the Mi'kmaw community on this area of P.E.I. for a while.
"We approached the P.E.I. Mi'kmaq to sort of gauge their interest in becoming the long-term stewards of Oulton's for conservation … seeing that this area has a heightened cultural significance to them," said Campbell.
Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard, who is also the co-chair of the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils, said that collaborating on conservation with Indigenous people is valuable and essential.
"It's in our hearts, it is in who we are as a people to protect lands," said Bernard, adding she is pleased to continue that work alongside the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
"It's a traditional Mi'kmaw cultural landscape just like Hog Island and Sandhills, right. Our people were on those islands and were using those islands to sustain themselves since time immemorial."
Engaging Indigenous communities in land protection is about reconciliation, Bernard said.
"We need to be part of this going forward, being part of protecting lands in Prince Edward Island."
With coastal erosion eating away at the province it's important to have multiple groups and organizations helping with land protection, she said.
"We need to be able to build capacity to be able to co-manage these areas."
The purchase of the island is separate from the ongoing negotiations between Parks Canada and the Mi'kmaq on the nearby proposed Pituamkek national park reserve.
Campbell said the conservancy and representatives from the Mi'kmaw community have been visiting the island together, including several trips this past summer.
"It's just a really magical island and we're excited to see what we may uncover archaeologically from maybe past use of Mi'kmaq of this area," she said.