Government of Canada and Mushkegowuk Council working together to protect western James Bay

News release

Memorandum of Understanding signed to launch a feasibility assessment for a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay.

August 9, 2021                          Moose Factory, Ontario                  Parks Canada

Today, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, and Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, the elected leader of the Mushkegowuk Council, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to launch a feasibility assessment for a National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay. This is a vital next step in the process to safeguard Canada’s marine and coastal waters, and contributes to the Government of Canada’s commitment to protect biodiversity and conserve 25 percent of land and inland waters and 25 percent of marine and coastal areas by 2025, working toward 30 percent by 2030.

Both leaders began the day by acknowledging the tragedy and legacy of residential schools in Canada especially in light of recent findings of unmarked graves at several former residential school sites. The leaders acknowledged the pain and suffering of Indigenous people across Canada from residential schools.

The marine region covered by the MOU is over 90,000 square-kilometres, and encompasses an immense array of biodiversity. The coasts and waters are home to beluga whales, polar bears and other iconic Arctic and subarctic species. It is also an important global stopover for billions of migratory birds. This proposed marine area is adjacent to one of the largest stocks of carbon-rich peatlands in the world called the “breathing lands” by Elders. These ancient wetlands play a very important role in cooling the planet. The marine and peatland ecosystems support each other.

Enhancing the protection of marine ecosystems will not only help to conserve biodiversity, and assist with climate change mitigation, but also help maintain the culture, traditions, and well-being of Omushkego Cree communities, who have long been stewards of these lands and waters.

This MOU underlines the Government of Canada’s and the Mushkegowuk Council’s shared interest in protecting the ecological and cultural integrity of this globally significant ecosystem. By initiating a formal process to study the biodiversity, carbon, economic, and cultural values of this area, these two groups can come together to share and build a world-leading example of conservation driven by Indigenous peoples.

The MOU encourages discussion around conservation and the dual role of biodiversity and carbon in the protection of important places. It also promotes inclusivity for community groups in conservation planning and protected area forums.


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“The Mushkegowuk Council welcomes the opportunity to work with the Government to conserve our homelands through recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. Before contact, our ancestors travelled the shores of the Weeneebegs (bays) hunting, trapping and fishing. It’s vital that conservation happens in a manner that is consistent with and builds upon Indigenous knowledge, values, livelihoods and communities.”

Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, Mushkegowuk Council

“Protected areas in Canada are part of a “nature-based solution” to climate change, as healthy ecosystems help nature and people adapt to climate change. I’m inspired to see the Government of Canada and the Mushkegowuk Council as collaborators to assess the feasibility of a national marine conservation area in western James Bay and southern Hudson Bay. We are committed to work towards the protection of such a natural and cultural treasure, for present and future generation, and contribute to protecting biodiversity and conserving 25 percent of land and inland waters and 25 percent of marine and coastal areas by 2025, working toward 30 percent by 2030.”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“With three oceans surrounding us and the longest coastlines in the world, Canadians are deeply connected to our oceans. We recognize the vital role they play in livelihoods of so many, and the cultural significance they carry for Indigenous peoples. Canada is going to protect 25 per cent of our oceans by 2025 by working in partnership. I’m proud to see milestones like these in the western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay because they remind us that meaningful marine conservation is about more than reaching targets, it's about working together to ensure our oceans are healthy and productive for future generations.”

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“To take on the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, we need to protect marine areas like western James Bay that both provide habitat and sequester carbon. But conservation must also meet the needs of the people who rely on the lands and the waters. Oceans North is proud to support this Indigenous-led initiative as the Omushkego work to protect this globally significant ecosystem.” 

Louie Porta
Executive Director, Oceans North     

“I fell in love with our northern ocean on a trip to Hudson Bay to learn about belugas and polar bears. Safeguarding this marine ecosystem is not only important to Canada but to the world. Western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay is globally significant for wildlife such as belugas, walruses, polar bears and shorebirds, for its blue carbon and for its cultural significance. Wildlands League congratulates the Omushkego and Canada on this impressive milestone. We look forward to supporting the Omushkego as they advance this initiative to protect the Bay including the belugas I love and its incredible life-giving, carbon-rich coasts and estuaries.”

Janet Sumner
Executive Director, Wildlands League

“With increasing pressures from climate change and development, it is essential that we protect the right places for wildlife and people. Protecting the western James Bay and Hudson Bay, which is the traditional marine territory of the Omushkego people and habitat to beluga, polar bears and shorebirds is a critical step in securing their future while protecting an important ecosystem for carbon storage. WWF-Canada is honored to be supporting Indigenous-led conservation in this globally important region.”

Megan Leslie
WWF-Canada president and CEO

Quick facts

  • Under Budget 2021, the Government of Canada has made a historic investment to protect the health of our oceans, including $976.8 million in funding over five years to reach ambitious marine conservation targets through the establishment of marine protected areas (including national marine conservation areas) and other effective area-based conservation measures, such as marine refuges.

  • Budget 2021 also made a historic investment of $2.3 billion over five years in Canada’s Nature Legacy to address the biodiversity crisis, protect and conserve nature, and create jobs in nature conservation and management.

  • The Omushkego have lived in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay since time immemorial, and their traditional territories cover a large portion of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands (the largest wetland in North America and the third largest in the world) as well as extending beyond the coast into the marine region and its islands.

  • The Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change. 

  • Grounded by science, Indigenous knowledge and local perspectives, Canada is committed to conserving 25 percent of marine and coastal areas by 2025, working toward 30 percent by 2030.

  • A steering committee will be established to help guide the feasibility assessment. It will include representatives from both Parks Canada and the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Omushkego First Nations as well as Winisk and Fort Severn First Nations. During the feasibility assessment, the steering committee will engage and consult with Indigenous and local communities, relevant authorities including the governments of Ontario and Nunavut, stakeholders, and the public.

Associated links


Joanna Sivasankaran
Press Secretary      
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Lawrence Martin
Media Contact
Mushkegowuk Council

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency

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