Northern Ontario Marine Area Could Soon Be Protected

From left: MP Adam van Koeverden, Mushkegowuk Council’s Lawrence Martin and Parks Canada’s Ron Hallman were in Kashechewan First Nation for a Feb. 21 announcement about a proposed national marine conservation area in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay/Ron Grech

A Northern Ontario area that has one of the largest beluga populations in Canada and a threatened population of polar bears is one step closer to officially protecting its biodiverse marine environment.

The Mushkegowuk Council and the Government of Canada have completed a feasibility assessment to establish a proposed national marine conservation area (NMCA) in western Weeneebeg (James Bay) and southwestern Washaybeyoh (Hudson Bay).

The area is also a global hotspot for breeding and migrating water birds, including the endangered Red Knot — one of the longest distance migrants in the animal kingdom. The Omushkego have lived here since time immemorial and their traditional territories cover a large portion of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands and extend beyond the coast into the marine region and its islands.

The Feb. 21 announcement was made in the community of Kashechewan by Grand Chief Leo Friday of Mushkegowuk Council and Adam van Koeverden, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Protecting this marine ecosystem helps to conserve biodiversity and assist with climate change mitigation, and helps the continuity of the cultures and traditions of Omushkego Cree communities who have long been stewards of these lands and waters. The proposed NMCA would provide for Omushkego people to exercise their rights to decision-making for the future of the area through shared governance with Parks Canada.

“We hunt, trap, and fish for survival,” Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Leo Friday said in a news release. “We signed a treaty that we were told would allow us to continue to be stewards of our traditional lands and waters. This is a welcome step toward fulfilling that promise.”

Parks Canada and other federal government departments will collaborate to implement interim protection for the proposed NMCA. Parks Canada and the Omushkego people will strive to ensure the proposed national marine conservation area fully supports community members in maintaining and enhancing connections to lands, waters, and ice for the continuity of inherent rights including harvesting.

Engagement and consultation will continue during the next stages toward establishment. Once protected, the new NMCA would also contribute 1.5 per cent to Canada’s target of protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030.

“Canadians are just beginning to appreciate the global significance of this marine ecosystem where the Omushkego have stewarded forever, where polar bears roam and belugas swim,” said Wildlands League Executive Director Janet Sumner. “The Omushkego are doing conservation their own way all the while giving hope to a country and the world.”

A steering committee is helping guide the feasibility assessment for the proposed NMCA in western James Bay It includes representatives from both Parks Canada and Mushkegowuk Council which represents seven First Nations (Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moose Cree, Chapleau Cree, Taykwa Tagamou, and Missanabie Cree), as well as Weenusk and Fort Severn First Nations.

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