Expanding Protection of Traditional Lands and Waters in the Fisher Bay Region

June 13, 2017

In 2011, the Fisher Bay provincial park was established to protect nature, culture, and sustainable economic opportunities in the region. It all began in 1999 when Fisher River Cree Nation (FRCN) nominated areas set aside from industrial developments. In 2006, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), a non-profit wilderness conservation group, joined forces with FRCN on a quest to establish a new provincial park. We were pleased when the park was created, but the boundaries are a smaller park than we hoped for, which we believe was due to the provincial government at the time not permitting FRCN to be part of the consultation process. Since that time, and supported by both ecological and economic studies, CPAWS and Fisher River Cree Nation have voiced the need for a process to explore expanded protection in the region.

In the lead up to the 2016 provincial election, CPAWS Manitoba issued a questionnaire to all parties asking for their position on proposed protected areas. In their response, the now leading Progressive Conservative Party was clear in their commitment to pursue the discussions with rightsholders and stakeholders on expanding protections in the Fisher Bay region.

With a community and stakeholder engagement process designed by FRCN, CPAWS, and the provincial government, this process will be undertaken to determine the extent of the opportunity to protect additional lands in the Fisher Bay region. This could include the designation of additional classes of protected areas in the region, the expansion of the existing provincial park, or a combination of the two.

The Fisher Bay Region

The land surrounding Fisher Bay is remarkably undisturbed despite its relative short distance from urban, industrial and agricultural development. Every shoreline provides glimpses of the thriving biological diversity found here. Expansive beaches line both mainland and islands. Fresh tracks are left in the sand by wolves, moose, foxes and bears passing in and out of old growth forests. Water birds continually wing by, traveling from nesting colonies to feeding grounds while songbirds bring the canopy to life with their calls. The lands and waters offer habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species including little brown bats, piping plover, golden-winged warbler, shortjaw cisco, swamp pink, and round-leaved bog orchid.

For centuries, Indigenous people have utilized Fisher Bay’s resources while maintaining its well-being. The area has provided a home and livelihood to the FRCN for many generations. Adequate landscape protection in this region, according to the best combination of ecological and cultural considerations, will ensure the lands and waters can continue to provide while safeguarding the tremendous potential to create community-driven sustainable economies reliant on a healthy environment.

The ecological health of the region also holds relevance to the health of Lake Winnipeg. Healthy forests and wetlands in the Lake Winnipeg region provide an important service by filtering out excess nutrients from surface water runoff. With the lake plagued by harmful algal blooms caused by excess nutrient inputs, securing the health of adjacent lands and the persistence of their filtration services will help prevent the problem from worsening.

The challenge – more protection needed

Based on ecological and economic studies and analysis of cultural values in the region, the current boundaries fall short of those needed to protect nature, culture and sustainable economic opportunity (1,2,3).

FRCN has been at the forefront of a growing movement of Indigenous communities leading the way in protection and management of their traditional lands and waters through the establishment of legislated protected areas. Proving an effective and rights affirming approach to safeguarding nature and the continuity of land-based cultural traditions while supporting local economies, it follows that recognition and support for Indigenous led land use planning is increasing.  The vision of Fisher River Cree Nation is to achieve a community in which a healthy, secure and respected environment offers attachment to the natural world; a place where history, language, traditions, and culture are paramount.

Article republished from Manitoba EcoJournal v. 27 no. 2. Summer 2017

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