Vb st john river looking into New Brunswick

Open Space Institute’s Transborder Fund Supports Protection of Canadian Island for Indigenous Cultural Heritage, Wildlife Migration

PESKOTOMUHKATI UNCEDED AND TRADITIONAL TERRITORY, CANADA (Oct. 24, 2023)—Support from the Open Space Institute (OSI) has helped to permanently protect a pristine sea island between the coasts of northeastern Maine and southeastern Canada. Conservation of the island secures an important migratory bird stopover while permanently facilitating access to the property by the Peskotomuhkati First Nation at Skutik peoples.

With a grant from OSI’s Transborder Fund, American Friends of Canadian Conservation, the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, and the Peskotomuhkati First Nation at Skutik collaborated to permanently protect the 19-acre “White Island.” Successful conservation of the island, located in the Western Isles region of Passamaquoddy Bay, also creates a cooperative stewardship structure that will integrate traditional Indigenous land uses.

OSI supported the project through its Transborder Fund, which focuses on projects supporting cross-border wildlife migration between the United States and Canada.

“OSI is honored to have supported the protection of White Island, and its cultural and ecological heritage, for good and forever,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Director of Capital Grants. “We thank the Peskotomuhkati First Nation at Skutik, American Friends of Canadian Conservation, and the Nature Trust of New Brunswick for their dedication to White Island, and hope that this project will inspire future rematriation of Indigenous homelands throughout North America.”

White Island and other conserved islands in Passamaquoddy Bay preserve the biological diversity of the globally-significant “Quoddy Important Bird Area.” This Area provides critical habitat for a variety of shorebirds and seabirds including red-necked phalarope — a species of Special Concern in Canada and a priority for US Fish and Wildlife’s Northeast Region — and razorbill, a priority for conservation in Canada’s Region 14 Bird Conservation Strategy.

The ecological richness of Passamaquoddy Bay and the larger St. Croix River watershed (known to the Indigenous inhabitants as the “Skutik”) were at the heart of every aspect of the lives of the Peskotomuhkati peoples.

Islands in Passamaquoddy Bay served as bases for Peskotomuhkati porpoise hunts, egg gathering, and fish netting. They also served as safe havens during the Peskotomuhkati people’s journeys in their large marine canoes across the Bay of Fundy.

Looking ahead, American Friends of Canadian Conservation, the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, and the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik will develop a stewardship plan for White Island to reflect both Indigenous and “western” knowledge, allowing for traditional uses of White Island, and serving as a training opportunity for Indigenous youth.

In addition to the OSI’s Transborder Fund, the William P. Wharton Trust and Maine Community Foundation supported the conservation of White Island. The project would not have been possible without the generosity and commitment of land donor Doug DeAngelis who originally bought the island to ensure it was protected.

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