Dunakiiwin is a term used to describe the homelands which lie in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, (Treaty # 9) – an area covering two-thirds of the far north of Ontario.
It is estimated that about 74% of the surface of the earth is water according to David Suzuki in his book, “You are the Earth”; including oceans, lakes, rivers, and polar ice-caps. He says that we are made up of 70% water because our cells as such, are mainly composed of water. He writes, “You are actually a big blob of water, with just enough solid material to keep you from dribbling away onto the floor.”
In mid-September, 2009, a meeting took place at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) with representation from communities located along the Fawn Rivers 1& 2 and both the Severn and Pipestone rivers. These rivers have been designated as “Waterway Class Parks.” These waterway parks have a combined total of 192, 469 hectares or approximately 1,925 square kilometers which is 6.4 times the size of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.
Frank Beardy, NAN Chief Negotiator for Oshki-Machiitawin (formerly Northern Table) explained the purpose of the meeting: “Our main objective is how can we ensure that the First Nations have control of our watersheds?” He continued, “If any development happens in Muskrat Dam, everybody down the river will be affected. It will not make a difference if we only protect part of the river. Can we protect the whole water basin?”
In June 2006, the Ontario Legislature passed the new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, which came into effect, along with the new regulations, on September 4, 2007. Under the legislation, Waterway Class Parks are one of the classifications.
The objective of these parks is to protect recreational water routes and significant terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including associated natural and cultural features. They have also been designated to provide high quality recreational and educational experiences.
The First Peoples living in Noopemig, have always used the lakes, streams, rivers for travel routes; a place to hunt, fish, and trap for food. More importantly, access to drinking water while pursuing traditional activities is considered to be guaranteed under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution 1982. Living off the land has always been understood that the environment is protected and water, as the source of life, is maintained. Living with Noopemig means ensuring that the landscapes with its natural features are maintained and kept healthy.
Former Premier of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Kakfwi spoke of how his elders pointed out that they would have to also protect the “mountains, valleys, trees and the landscape” if they wanted to protect the waterways.
The elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug say that Big Trout Lake has rivers and streams flowing in and out, connecting with other systems along the way; each with their own unique features. Establishing waterway parks on the west and east side of the lake brings with it different management systems to huge chunks of a whole ecosystem that could potentially disrupt an otherwise healthy landscape.
The communities of Wapekeka, Bearskin Lake, Wunnumin, Kingfisher, North Caribou, and Cat Lake, have been asking for the de-designation of these classifications since July 5, 2007 claiming the parks “were established without meaningful consultation” and “without seeking the consent by First Nations whose traditional homelands were affected.”
In July 2008, Premier McGuinty announced the protection of 225,000 square kilometers to be off-limits to development but traditional aboriginal uses like hunting and fishing would be allowed, along with tourism. “It is imperative that the province strike the right balance between conservation and development. We need to plan for development and we will only get one chance to get this right.”
The new planning process for the far north would “enshrine a new respect and working relationship with First Nations” and create “a true partnership.” Mr. McGuinty had committed to giving a greater say to First Nations concerning development projects on their traditional lands including a share of the benefits from these resource projects.
Bill 191, the Far North Act, was introduced on June 2, 2009 as “An Act with respect to land use planning and protection in the far north. The proposed planning process identified “a significant role for First Nations,” and dedicated “225,000 square kilometers of the far north as an interconnected network of protected areas.”
While the province, through the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)is not willing to de-designate the parks, it is willing to review the parks on a case by case basis and claims that boundaries could change through the land use planning process. In addition, there is a commitment for the co-management of parks, also on a case by case basis.
For their part, the represented communities, including Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, resolved that; “We do not recognize the imposition of waterway parks or any of their associated rules and regulations in our traditional territory. We will assert our jurisdiction over our traditional territories and use the waterways as we have since time immemorial.”
The communities resolved to “establish a permanent committee to address waterway park issues and to develop protocols to protect waterways based on indigenous knowledge.” Each First Nation will contribute its share of the funding to the overall project and will submit a proposal to the ENGOs and to both levels of governments for additional funding.
The First Peoples have only recently become aware of the establishment of these waterway parks in their territory although planning has been ongoing for decades. Setting up those waterway parks without First Nation involvement and the lack of meaningful action to address this grievance is hindering the development of a “new respect and a working relationship.” Using indigenous knowledge, they plan to exercise jurisdiction to control and protect entire water basins and not just rivers.
The mighty waters of the Fawn River 1 & 2, the Pipestone, and the Severn, continue to echo through Noopemig in Dunakiiwin for as long as the rivers flow……