Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity to share with the committee our perspective on protected areas and conservation objectives. At this time, I would like to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
It is an honour to be here before you today as we share our thoughts as indigenous people. As the chair indicated, my name is Patricia Faries. I am the chief of Moose Cree First Nation. Jack Rickard is our director of lands and resources.
We are from the Moose Cree First Nation, and we recently reaffirmed our “Homelands Declaration” in September of this year. Our home community is located in Moose Factory, on the Moose River delta in the Moose River system. Our Moose Cree homeland extends from Hearst, Ontario, in the west, to just beyond the Quebec border in the east, and from south of Highway 11 to points north toward the Albany River. Our Homelands are the areas determined by the Moose Cree citizens, our Eh-lilu-wuk, which is inclusive generally of the historical occupancy and use of lands and watersheds in northeastern Ontario.
The Moose Cree homelands are comprised of static boundaries and covers approximately 60,000 square kilometres. As the Moose Cree have determined, the homelands area includes surface and subsurface lands, air, and water. The homelands area has been derived by using Moose Cree knowledge from our elders and is based on our continued presence of hunting, trapping, and harvesting in these grounds, prior to the Ontario government trapline system, and indeed, prior to the signing of our James Bay treaty, Treaty No. 9.
This is the land our ancestors called home, where our forefathers were born, where food was gathered, where families were raised and buried, and where the Moose Cree life and culture continue to thrive. We consider ourselves the Water People. We believe that everything on this earth is alive—Nipi-ma-tis-i-win, meaning “water is life”—and water is one element that can be influenced by its environment, as was proven by western science.
We, the Moose Cree people, are the original peoples of this land. The Creator has given us this land as our home. The Creator gave us our spiritual beliefs, our languages, our culture, and this place on earth, which provides for all our needs. Our ancestors have lived on this land since time immemorial, drawing on the animals, fish, and plants for their sustenance. We are charged by the Creator with the duty of preserving and protecting the land for our future generations.
We come before you today to speak of a matter of great importance to us, to provide you information on the initiatives we are conducting within our homelands to ensure the protection and conservation of our way of life. We believe our initiatives run parallel with this study on federal protected areas and conservation objectives.
For the last 80 years, the people of Moose Cree have observed the impacts that have occurred on our lands, our water, and our wildlife. There is a broad range of resource development activities occurring in the southern portion of our homeland, including significant mineral exploration and extraction, hydroelectric development, and forestry.
We seek to work collaboratively with proponents where possible. In fact, Moose Cree is possibly the only first nation in Ontario to become a partner in a major energy infrastructure project with Ontario Power Generation. Within our homeland, we own 25% of the Lower Mattagami River project. We know, however, that economic development must be sustainable and must be pursued in a manner that protects our cultural integrity and is consistent with our cultural pursuits and the protection of our treaty and inherent rights.
The lands and resources secretariat has been mandated by the chief and council to provide for the management, protection, conservation, and preservation of the Moose Cree First Nation homeland on behalf of its citizens. One important initiative is the protection of the North French River watershed. This is shown shaded on the map you have before you. The pink area is the North French River watershed. This region is considered of great cultural significance to our first nation. We are deeply committed to preserving it and strongly oppose any resource development in this area.
The North French watershed is 6,660 square kilometres in size. As you can see on the map, the North French lies within the heart of the Moose Cree homelands. It is an area that remains free of any negative impacts from any resource development and is one of the last pristine freshwater sources. To this day, we can still draw water from the river and drink it directly. It is an area that has great cultural and environmental significance to the Moose Cree First Nation and is an area that must be protected for our future generations.
From discussions with our esteemed elders and other knowledge holders, it is clear that the preservation of the watershed is paramount. It is a source of clean water. It provides healthy habitat for the threatened boreal caribou and for fisheries. It is also a part of the carbon storehouse within the area. Most of all, it's a place for our people to exercise our heritage activities. That is fundamental to the continued well-being of our first nation.
While Moose Cree now considers this area to be removed from potential development, we are conscious that the issue of formal long-term protection should be addressed co-operatively. We request the federal government's support and co-operation in ensuring the removal of this area from potential development and that its protection be fully formalized and communicated with proponents, the public, and all governments.
We have asked Ontario, as an initial step, to withdraw these lands from any mineral prospecting, staking, sale, or lease. They have yet to act on this and, as such, are still encouraging mining, which is deeply troublesome to us. We are concerned that Ontario intends to introduce online staking in 2017, which may bring new threats to our territory.
We understand that both Canada and Ontario have signed on to ambitious targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 17% of lands and inland waters by 2020. We strongly encourage the committee and all governments to work with indigenous peoples to reflect and respect their protected areas in these plans.
We also look for your support to encourage Ontario to stop resource development in this watershed and to respect our indigenous-led protected area here. Right now, there is a gap, in that the provincial government has yet to respect our indigenous protected area and stop development from occurring here. This is critical to working toward reconciliation with our people. Ontario has no formal mechanism in its laws to respect our protected area. Ontario also has no formal mechanism in law to respect our ongoing management of any protected area. This needs to be fixed.
We recommend that you formally recognize our protected area and that you work with us to ensure these areas are permanently protected, as our people have said. The North French is one of several watersheds in our territory that require permanent protection. We will have more to say about other watersheds in the territory as our community members discuss them.
Indigenous peoples are leading the management and protection of their homelands in Canada. It is important that governments recognize this and work with us. Together, not only can we meet these international targets, but we can show leadership to the world.
Moose Cree have always been proactive in taking care of their homeland and their people. We have begun a land protection planning exercise, with an emphasis on protection of our resources. Over the years, we have carried out indigenous knowledge studies of the waters, the caribou, and the fish within our river systems. We have important bird areas in our homeland and have been surveying them for many years now.
We would like to say a final word about climate change and protected areas. We are deeply concerned about climate change, and our people are calling on us to take action. We see the indigenous protected areas in our territory that overlap the carbon-rich boreal forests and Hudson Bay lowlands as incredibly important tools in ensuring the resilience of ecosystems in the face of a warming climate.
We invite you to partner with us to build indigenous protected areas to meet international targets on biodiversity, to meet our ambitious climate change objectives, and to achieve reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada. We invite you to work with us.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our recommendations. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.