‘No serious consultation’ – Marten Falls chief on parks process
A Nishnawbe Aski Nation chief is annoyed with the review process surrounding legislation for Ontario’s parks and protected areas.
March 24, 2005: Volume 32 #6
Chief Eli Moonias says he’s concerned First Nations adjacent to Ontario’s protected parks, waterways, and areas could get shortchanged when the legislation is tightened.
“The consultation they do is not good,” said the chief of Marten Falls First Nation. “I think the consultation should be done in each community affected.”
Moonias said he first heard of the review process from Adair Ireland-Smith, managing director of Ontario Parks and the legislation review process leader. She spoke to chiefs at a meeting in Thunder Bay, Nov. 3 – five days before the deadline for comments was scheduled.
“What I see happening is there is no serious intention to consult,” he said of the presentation, which was made to about 40 Nishnawbe Aski Nation chiefs. “I feel as if that consultation is just a motion they had to go through. They are going to do whatever they want to do anyway regardless of what we say.”
Ireland-Smith, however, said the time set aside for comments, from Sept. 9 to Nov. 8, 2004, was set to provide a strong timeline while expecting a large number of public submissions.
“Because we set aside 60 days for the formal part of the consultation in no way means that First Nation communities cannot have that dialogue with us and submit comments,” she said.
Ireland-Smith also said NAN chiefs passed a series of resolutions at the chiefs meeting she attended with their own commentary on the eight proposals listed for consideration as the basis of the review.
“That information came in after the 60-day period,” she said. “And that information is part of the record.”
During her November presentation to the chiefs, Ireland-Smith informed them the province’s overall objective of the review is to strengthen the level of protection for existing protected areas in the province.
Today, Ontario’s network of protected areas covers about nine per cent of the province’s land-base. Of that, there are 316 provincial parks covering 7.7 million hectares; 249 conservation reserves spanning one million hectares; and 10 wilderness areas covering 800 hectares.
Ireland-Smith said those lands and waterways were set aside to form a network of protected areas “to protect biodiversity conservation.
“There is a scientific framework that guides where we choose to have protected areas,” she said. “It is based on geological and biological features that we are trying to represent in our protected areas system. The scientific frameworks actually set targets for protection of representative features. And we try, to the best of our abilities, to set aside representative areas that capture those features.”
Partnership for Public Lands (an environmental lobby group with three member organizations including Wildlands League, Ontario Nature and World Wildlife Fund) was instrumental in bringing about a commitment from Premier Dalton McGuinty to have the legislation reviewed, Ireland-Smith said. Additional reasons for a green lighting the review process include: a recognition that the existing legislation was outdated and needed to be overhauled, and the environmental commissioner thought it prudent to go ahead.
Julee Boan, protected areas co-ordinator with Partnership for Public Lands, said her organization sought a tightening of the legislation because it is inadequate.
“The laws governing Ontario Parks were last substantially revised in 1954 where there were just eight parks,” she said. “There are now more than 600 parks and conservation reserves that still do not have a law that makes protection of species and habitats the priority in parks management.”
Boan also said the existing law says almost nothing about what must be done to make sure parks protect the wild species they are meant to sustain.
“The law also leaves many dangerous loopholes for industrial activities such as logging roads and gravel pits or developments such as hotels or golf courses that can threaten the very ecosystems that our parks are meant to protect,” she said.
Moonias, on the other hand, said he is especially concerned about impacts a tightened parks legislation will mean for his people.
“A consultation process was not done in the 1970s when the Albany, Attawapiskat, Ogoki, and Winisk rivers were protected under that new protected parks and waterways act,” he said. “They didn’t consult the people at all.”
Prior to the establishment of protected areas near Marten Falls, Moonias said his people were engaged in commercial fishing activities in those areas.
“We commercial fished these rivers since the Hudson Bay Company arrived, since this country was known as Rupert’s Land,” he said.
No longer able to fish those waters commercially since the areas became protected, Moonias said the economy in Marten Falls has all but died.
“So we’ve gone into the reserve and become dependent on welfare,” he said. “Now I’m concerned (that this legislation review and subsequent law-making) will mean the alienation of Aboriginal use of the lands as guaranteed by our treaties.”
Ireland-Smith said she does not know the exact dates of when the parks surrounding Marten Falls came into existence.
“Certainly the consultation expectations and processes in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and even the ‘90s were different than they are today,” she said. “That changes in terms of case law. Absolutely it was different.”
Ireland-Smith said consultation with First Nations during the parks and protected areas legislation review process has been, and continues to be, a priority.
“I can understand that he and others would liked to have seen our consultation process involve individual-level community consultation,” Ireland-Smith said. “That was not part of the consultation plan that was approved. Certainly any community that would wish to have dialogue, we could get on the phone and have that dialogue.”
Ireland-Smith also said Aboriginal treaty rights for traditional land-use activities are recognized under the Canadian Constitution and will not be affected by the legislation if it is tightened.
Although Boan said Partnership for Public Lands wants to have the legislation tightened, she said the environmental organization does not want Aboriginal treaty rights impinged in the process.
She said a research paper coordinated with the National Aboriginal Forestry Association was published by one of the Partnership for Public Lands members to provide a better understanding of Aboriginal values and protected areas in Canada.
“We have used some of the lessons learned from that research in our proposal to the new protected areas legislation,” Boan said. “Aboriginal people must have a say in where protected areas are established and how they are managed in Ontario. The new legislation can be an opportunity to officially recognize protocols for meaningful consultations and accommodation, clarify Aboriginal treaty rights within protected areas, explore opportunities for co-management, and ensure that benefits from protected areas are shared with Aboriginal communities.”
NAN irons out permitting systemFinding an approach to implementing a permitting and impact benefits agreement system in Nishnawbe Aski Nation is being supported by its communities, says Carol Ann Audet, Lands and Resources Co-ordinator.
“A number of First Nations have expressed an interest in participating in this process but no decision on a ‘test case’ has yet been made,” she said in a written release.
Audet also said the intent behind the strategy is to provide First Nations with the necessary tools to assert jurisdiction.
“This would be done through the issuance of permits which would allow First Nations to set out the conditions for the use of the land,” she added.
Audet also said a more detailed update on a permitting and impact benefits agreement system will be provided at the upcoming March 2005 Chiefs Assembly.
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