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Aboriginal peoples in Canada have always had strong cultural links with forest ecosystems. In Atlantic Canada, First Nations historically relied on forest lands for their livelihoods as well as to establish and maintain their cultural identities through traditions associated with the natural woodland environment.
In February 2011, the Abegweit First Nation and the Province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) took a step forward in renewing these economic and cultural practices by signing a unique co-management agreement that touches on the pillars of sustainable development and traditional ecological knowledge. Under the ten-year agreement, Abegweit First Nation will have the use of 2,000 acres of public forest land to demonstrate sustainable forest management and restoration of the island's native Acadian woodlands.
In addition to following the principles of environmental sustainability, the partnership opens up new opportunities for capacity-building and economic diversification for the First Nation and provides a unique opportunity to have a greater voice in managing public lands for the benefit of all PEI residents.
"We are looking forward to maintaining and renewing our traditional practices and activities, as well as seeking additional sustainable economic and cultural opportunities through this partnership," said Chief Brian Francis of Abegweit First Nation.
As part of the agreement, the provincial forestry staff will work with Abegweit First Nation members to develop long-term forest management plans for the area. Additionally, the First Nation will receive training in forest restoration and wood harvesting, and will have opportunities for harvesting both timber and non-timber products including food, medicinal plants, biomass and ground hemlock as long as they are harvested in a sustainable manner.
The agreement is a big step toward long-term sustainability of this valuable economic, environmental, social and cultural resource. In the past, the PEI public forests were often left to grow in an unplanned fashion as a result of past farming and forestry practices.
The Abegweit-PEI partnership's long-term ecosystem management plans take into account the different soil and moisture conditions available today and ensure that the appropriate mix of plant species will be self-sustaining into the future.