The following letter to the editor is republished from the Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 11, 2017.
It was a pleasure to attend the Canada Summer Games events at The Forks this weekend. Vintage Parks Canada films from decades past shown on the big screen in between the musical acts celebrated and promoted our National Park system. This was fitting with Canada’s 150 year birthday as parks and wild landscapes are such an integral part of who we are as Canadians.
That said, I have mixed feelings about the history of our National parks. On one hand, I am glad these areas are conserved for nature and visitor experience. On the other hand, the fact that some parks failed to include consultations with Indigenous people was terribly unjust. Worse yet, it resulted in many Indigenous people being removed from their land and forced to relocate to less desirable locations.
Thankfully, in the last couple decades Parks Canada has modernized its approach to establishing National Parks with the leadership and support of affected Indigenous communities. In Manitoba, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1998 by the provincial government, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) regarding designing and managing new protected areas. The Memorandum makes it clear that provincial parks from then on 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 Indigenous people can continue to hunt, fish, and trap in all new parks and protected areas unless mutual agreements are made to the contrary.
I hope Parks Canada stays on this path and that Manitoba’s upcoming green plan places a high priority on working with Indigenous people and all Manitobans to further protect our wild lands and waters through parks, other protected area designations, and through making good on Manitoba’s commitment to work with communities to develop comprehensive land use plans for the many large resource management areas within the province.
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Manitoba chapter