Riding Mountain National Park’s 75th Anniversary

By Ron Thiessen – CPAWS Manitoba Executive Director

Riding Mountain National Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. This milestone stirs my mixed feelings about this spectacular 3000 square kilometer wilderness.

On one hand, I am glad this area is protected from industrial developments with an Ecology First management mandate. This way, this natural paradise and its wildlife can continue to flourish within its boundaries and the park is there for people to learn from and enjoy.

On the other hand, the fact that the park’s establishment failed to include consultations with Aboriginal people who consider this area their traditional territory was terribly unjust. Worse yet, it resulted in many First Peoples being removed from their land and forced to relocate to less desirable locations.

Seventy-five years later, the word “park” is still a bad four-letter word in the minds of many Aboriginal people I have spoken with during my travels in the region. This long-lasting memory, made worse by some provincial parks in Manitoba that were created in much the same way as Riding Mountain, has added to the challenge of creating new provincial parks.

Big Improvement

The good news is that, in the last decade, we have progressed significantly in the way provincial parks in Manitoba are created. In 1998, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Manitoba government, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) regarding designing and managing new protected areas. The Memorandum makes it clear that parks will be identified and designated only after full consultation with affected First Nations, and parks will not infringe on Aboriginal and treaty rights. This means Aboriginal people can continue to hunt, fish, and trap in all new parks and protected areas.

First Nations Leading the Way to New Parks and Protected Areas

What I find very exciting is that Manitoba First Nations, such as Poplar River and Fisher River, have nominated protected areas and are leading the way to establishing them based on their terms. Fisher River Cree Nation (FRCN) is proposing a 160,000 ha provincial park with boundaries determined by of ecological and cultural principles. The new park will protect nature and local culture but also be highly beneficial to the local economy. FRCN has completed a Tourism Opportunity Study for the region and they are highly aware of how community-driven ventures will have a huge advantage to flourish with the area having provincial park status. CPAWS is delighted to be partners with FRCN on this community-lead initiative.

Where Are We Now?

While we still have a long way to go in making things right with First Nations, and protecting the amount of lands and waters required to maintain Earth’s life support system, great strides are being made in the right direction. First Nations are continually gaining ground on land claims and unresolved issues regarding treaty rights, and the momentum across Canada to protect our wild spaces is growing quickly. CPAWS has the goal of working with Aboriginal peoples and all parties involved to protect at least 50% of Canada’s remaining wilderness – the minimum required to maintain fully functioning ecosystems according to a large community of conservation biologists.

To continue moving positively forward, it would be tremendously beneficial if the Manitoba government would start fulfilling their protected area commitments. While we appreciate the vows that have been made, action needs to follow. The province has proven themselves as slow walkers on the essential path to protecting our priceless natural areas. I encourage you to help speed up their pace by sending a letter to the Manitoba Government.

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