3 First Nations, Manitoba government sign deal on 20-year forestry plan

Three Manitoba First Nations and the province of Manitoba have struck a deal to create a long-term forestry plan in the Swan Valley region, an agreement being called an act of economic reconciliation.

The memorandum of understanding, announced Friday, calls for the provincial government, local First Nations and Louisiana-Pacific Canada to work together to create a 20-year forest management plan to protect treaty rights and jobs.

It aims to put an end to a long and legally contentious matter in the Duck Mountains, Porcupine Provincial Forest and Kettle Hills area, between Lake Winnipegosis and the Saskatchewan border.

“We fought hard for this agreement,” said Chief Derek Nepinak of Minegoziibe Anishinabe (formerly Pine Creek First Nation), one of three First Nations chiefs to sign the agreement. Sapotaweyak Cree Nation Chief Nelson Genaille and Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation Chief Elwood Zastre also signed it.

“We’re deeply connected to the Duck Mountains. It’s our heartland. It’s so important that these relationships are mended,” Nepinak said.

The agreement includes protection for animal populations in the region and water and plants, he said.

A long row of logs is scene at a forestry operation in a provincial park.
A row of timber from logging operations stretches across an area in Duck Mountain Provincial Park in a file photo. (Submitted by Eric Reder/The Wilderness Committee )

Nepinak acknowledged the Duck Mountains are also important to other interests, like the forestry industry.

“We have no desire to take food off the table of anybody, so we have to create an opportunity for reconciliation â€¦ to find a common ground,” he said.

“That’s what this agreement is all about. It’s an agreement to collaborate and move forward together in a good way.”

Zastre called it a first step toward achieving a renewed treaty relationship, but “much work remains to be done.”

“For more than a decade, we have been raising concerns about Manitoba’s failure to consider the protection of our treaty rights and the fair resource sharing when making decisions about Louisiana-Pacific’s ability to cut trees from our ancestral land,” he said.

Premier Wab Kinew said the agreement marks a significant moment and sets a new standard for the relationship between the province and First Nations.

“Today’s agreement is about making a living, and it’s about protecting a way of life,” he said. “This act of economic reconciliation is good for the economy, Indigenous Peoples and working-class Manitobans.”

A man in a headdress speaks at a podium
Chief Derek Nepinak speaks at Friday’s announcement about the agreement. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Louisiana-Pacific has been harvesting timber in Duck Mountain Provincial Park since 1994, with a licensing agreement that has been extended a couple of different times. But it has come under protest by First Nations and environmental advocates.

In January 2022, Minegoziibe Anishinabe filed a lawsuit against the province, claiming it breached its constitutional duty to consult them about the logging operations in their traditional lands. The lawsuit also named Louisiana-Pacific and sought an order to terminate the most recent one-year extension.

Manitoba is constitutionally obligated to consult First Nations and provide a forest management plan before each new licence extension is issued, but that did not happen, the court documents said.

A 10-year management plan was approved in 1996 but since its expiration in 2006, no further management plans have been approved, yet the licence has been extended several times, according to the lawsuit.

Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation filed its own lawsuit a month later, calling for logging and forestry development by Louisiana-Pacific in the Porcupine Provincial Forest and Kettle Hills area to be halted until meaningful consultation takes place.

Environmental advocates added their voices to the issue in May 2023, releasing a report showing the risks to biodiversity caused by logging. The Wilderness Committee called on the province to add the 1,424-square-kilometre Duck Mountain park to the list of others where commercial logging is prohibited.

In March 2024, the province quietly renewed the agreement once again through an order in council, but for a short-term agreement to June 30.

That prompted Minegoziibe Anishinabe to file an application in Court of King’s Bench on April 12 to halt the deal.

With Friday’s memorandum of understanding, the logging agreement with Louisiana-Pacific has been extended for another five years, but this time with the First Nations on board.

A man with black hair in a bun speaks at a podium.
Premier Wab Kinew says it is important that Manitoba finds a way to respect First Nations and treaty rights while balancing that with industries and the jobs and economic benefits they bring. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

“Through building trust and relationships with First Nations and industry partners, the Manitoba government is committed to developing a plan that will keep the Louisiana-Pacific plant active in [the rural municipality of] Minitonas while honouring the treaty rights of local First Nations,” Kinew said.

“This is the path forward.”