By Philip Round, Comox Valley Echo
A landmark agreement has been signed to step up activity to protect the Courtenay River Estuary.
The new ‘memorandum of agreement’ was inked at a public ceremony on Sunday between the K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) and Comox Valley Project Watershed.
It is believed to be the first time anywhere in Canada that a First Nation has come to such an agreement with an environmental group.
And it is set to be a key element in an upcoming bid to secure National Historic Site status for the estuary, a formal pitch for which will now be drawn up and presented to the federal government’s heritage ministry.
The estuary’s claim to be a site of national – and possibly international – importance is based on the mapping and dating of an extensive network of aboriginal fish traps.
Numerous remains of what were once thousands of wood stakes are visible at low tide and some of the complex patterns have been plotted and carbon-dated as being more than 1,000 years old
Introducing the afternoon’s events at the KFN’s Puntledge RV Park at the upper end of the tidal estuary, Andy Everson said river estuaries were sacred environments to the First Nations as they were crucial sources of food and water and provided transportation options and shelter for canoes.
The local estuary had been a “source of life for our people for thousands of years,” he said.
The memorandum of agreement is intended to get more people working together to protect and enhance the estuary for present and future generations, covering such issues as water quality, fish and wildlife and the wider ecosystem.
The KFN and Project Watershed have agreed to work together on a number of projects, including ideas around creating an interpretive centre, the making of a video about the estuary, and better onshore signage.
They will also consult each other on new developments that may be proposed to assess their potential impact on the estuary and to make representations as appropriate.
Among those present to witness the signing were Comox Valley elected officials from all levels of government.
They included Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, who is also the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development; Comox Valley MLA Don McRae, also provincial minister of agriculture; director Edwin Grieve, chair of Comox Valley Regional District; and municipal representatives Couns Jon Ambler (Courtenay), Marcia Turner (Comox) and Kate Greening (Cumberland).
In addition to traditional First Nations dancing performed by the Kumugwe Dancers, a crowd of about 150 were also entertained by Emily Spiller, this year’s Vancouver Island female vocalist of the year, and a traditional Salish dance group.
Various organizations with interests in and around the estuary also hosted information booths and food vendors included some traditional First Nation offerings.