New agreement between Manitoba, First Nations to change scope of forestry

On Friday, a new memorandum of understanding was signed that will change how forestry works in the Swan River Valley.

“For more than a decade, we have been raising concerns about Manitoba’s failure to consider protection of our treaty rights and fair resource sharing when making decisions about Lousiana-Pacific’s (LP) ability to cut trees from our ancestral lands,” said Chief Elwood Zastre of Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation.

Indigenous leaders say LP had been clear-cutting in the Duck Mountains without a trustworthy forest management plan.

These, and the Kettle Hills, are regions that have been crucial to Indigenous practice, Chief Derek Nepinak of Minegoziibe Anishinaabe First Nation said.

“We’re deeply connected to the Duck Mountains. It’s our heartland,” he said. “It’s where our people go to learn our language. It’s where we go to sit, and to hunt, and to pick medicines, and to understand who we are as a people.”

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Under the new agreement, Minegoziibe Anishinaabe First Nation, Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation and Sapotaweyak Cree Nation will work government-to-government with Manitoba to develop a new forest management plan for the area.

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It will also enforce revenue sharing with the communities, as well as penalties when LP doesn’t comply with conditions.

In an emailed statement to Global News, LP said it remains committed to its partnership with the province and First Nation communities.

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Premier Wab Kinew emphasized the deal is not intended to remove the corporation, but change its approach.

“It sets a new relationship, a new standard for the relationship to be pursued over the coming decades,” he said.

Previously, Kinew said First Nations people looking to hunt in the area were turned away by LP staff and conservation officers, who will now need allow the practice.

“We have no desire to take food off the table of anybody,” said Nepinak. “We have to create an opportunity for reconciliation with those who would go and engage the forestry industry. There’s a responsibility there on our part, but there’s also responsibility on their part to find a common ground. That’s what this agreement is all about.”

The agreement will be 25 years long with various stages, Kinew said.

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“There’s a five-year agreement where we’re going to work together as the crown, as First Nations leaders, to arrive at a 20-year plan for the future of the forest, for the way of life, and of course for the operations of that LP facility in Minitonas,” he said.

In the meantime, immediate work has already started to identify interim measures protecting First Nations treaty rights.

Click to play video: 'Pine Creek First Nation sues Manitoba, logging company over Duck Mountain forest rights'

Pine Creek First Nation sues Manitoba, logging company over Duck Mountain forest rights

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