Governments of Canada and Manitoba and four First Nations zero in on a new Indigenous protected area in one of the world’s largest ecologically intact watersheds
Feasibility assessment of Seal River Watershed to be informed by Traditional and scientific Knowledge.
December 14, 2022 Montréal, Québec Parks Canada
Canada includes some of the planet’s most significant, fully intact natural spaces. Protecting these areas plays a vital role in conserving natural and cultural heritage and in fighting climate change and biodiversity loss.
Today, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Jeff Wharton, Manitoba Minister of Environment, Climate and Parks, and Stephanie Thorassie, Executive Director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, announced a commitment to work together on a feasibility assessment for an Indigenous protected area in the Seal River Watershed.
The Seal River Watershed includes portions of the ancestral territory of four First Nations—the Sayisi Dene First Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, Barren Lands First Nation, and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation. Together, these First Nations have created the Seal River Watershed Alliance to work on their behalves to support a shared vision of protecting the nations’ respective ancestral lands.
Located in northern Manitoba, the Seal River Watershed is one of the richest carbon sinks in the world, and one of the world’s largest remaining ecologically intact watersheds, spanning over 50,000 square kilometres. The Seal River flows freely into Hudson Bay, unhindered by dams or industrial development. Protecting the watershed would add .5% of protected area on Canada’s path to protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030.
Within the Seal River region, there are at least 22 known species at risk — including wolverines, polar bears, grizzly bears, barren-ground caribou, orcas, and olive-sided flycatchers. Large numbers of harbour seals can be found 200 km inland from the mouth of the Seal, giving the river its name.
In addition to conserving biodiversity, protecting this ecosystem is a model of collaboration with Indigenous partners. It would contribute to the vitality of the cultures and traditions and the well-being of the Indigenous peoples who have been stewards of this region since time immemorial. The First Nations of the Seal River Watershed Alliance have extensive knowledge of the lands and waters in this area and are sustained, to this day, by its wildlife. Traditional Knowledge, coupled with science, will be used as the foundation for the feasibility assessment of the Indigenous protected area.
Today’s announcement took place during the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal, COP15. It underlines the Government of Canada’s and the Manitoba government’s commitment to reconciliation through a renewed nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationship with Indigenous peoples. The Government of Canada is committed to working in collaboration with Indigenous partners, the provinces and territories, stakeholders, and other levels of government to reach its goals of creating 10 new national parks and conserving 25 % of lands and waters by 2025, and 30 % of each by 2030.
The Manitoba government is excited to partner with the Government of Canada and Seal River Watershed Alliance to preserve and protect the biodiversity and culture of this unique area and further understand its economic potential.
“Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening ecosystems across Canada and demand urgent action from governments. Today’s announcement is an important step forward in the creation of a new Indigenous protected area for the Seal River Watershed in Northern Manitoba. This milestone demonstrates how much we can achieve to protect nature when we work together, advancing the goals of reconciliation, for the benefit of the Sayisi Dene First Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, Barren Lands First Nation, and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, Manitobans, and all Canadians.”
The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
“As a proud Manitoban, I am a strong advocate for the protection of the vastness of this beautiful province – from the northern arctic tundra to the prairie grassland in the south, and all the boreal forest and freshwater lakes in between. The Seal River Watershed is both a natural and a cultural treasure. I know how much hard work and good will has gone into getting us where we are today, with much more to come.”
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Member of Parliament, Winnipeg South, Manitoba
“Nature conservation and climate action are priorities for Manitoba and the Seal River Watershed initiative articulates a vision of a pristine watershed where people, animals and fish are healthy, unique languages and cultures thrive, and there is hope and abundance for all future generations. The Manitoba government shares this vision and we are very interested in working in partnership with the First Nations in the region to advance reconciliation and sustainable economic development for the Indigenous people living in the area.”
The Honourable Jeff Wharton
Manitoba Minister of Environment, Climate and Parks
“The Seal River Watershed Alliance welcomes this step in the journey to protect the watershed. The Sayisi Dene First Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, Barren Lands First Nation, and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation have come together to create the Indigenous Protected Area. We are asserting our inherent right to steward these lands for our communities, for the caribou, and for all people. Eighty per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity is on lands cared for by Indigenous Peoples, and recognizing Indigenous decision-making on the land is essential for the planet and our shared future. We are looking forward to working with our partners Canada and Manitoba on a nation-to-nation-to-nation basis to advance this work.”
Executive Director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance
Canada has approximately 24% of the world’s boreal forests and about 25% of the world’s temperate forests. The 1.5 million square kilometres of wetlands in Canada make up about 25% of the world’s total.
An Indigenous protected area is a designation that conserves ecosystems and biodiversity while supporting sustainable and culturally appropriate human uses. Indigenous governments have the primary decision‑making role for managing lands and waters in an Indigenous protected area.
Ecosystems like the Seal River Watershed act as carbon “sinks,” absorbing carbon dioxide through trees, soils, mosses, and phytoplankton (tiny plants and plantlike organisms living in water). Carbon dioxide, released mainly as a result of human activities, is the primary contributor to climate change
In 2020, the Government of Canada announced $3.2 million from the Canada Nature Fund’s Target 1 Challenge towards the Seal River Watershed Indigenous Protected Area Initiative. The project created 29 jobs within the communities, including youth Land Guardians who received valuable conservation and cultural training as well as positions in community engagement and project management. Today’s announcement builds on the success of this earlier project and looks to the future.
The focus of the feasibility stage is the development of an overall protected area concept. During this stage, additional emphasis is placed on identifying the opportunities and challenges associated with the proposal through a series of technical studies that incorporate Traditional Knowledge and science.
The feasibility assessment will also explore the possibility of establishing a national park reserve in the Seal River Watershed, in addition to an Indigenous protected area.
The feasibility of establishing a protected area will be assessed through extensive local public consultations, incorporating Traditional Knowledge and will consider, among other things, the social, environmental and economic benefits and impacts of establishing a protected area in the Seal River Watershed Area.
The feasibility assessment will include a geoscience work plan conducted in partnership between the Canada and Manitoba Geological Surveys to better understand the underlying geological formations that have created the existing surface conditions.
From December 7 to 19, 2022, Canada is welcoming the Parties to the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity in Montréal, Québec, for COP15, which will focus on the negotiation of a new Global Biodiversity Framework. This important international conference will be a landmark event with thousands of delegates from around the world gathered to take action on protecting nature. Canada will take a strong leadership role along with international partners in championing the development of an ambitious framework with clear targets and actions that also recognizes the important role Indigenous Peoples and communities play in conservation and biodiversity. Domestically, Canada is committed to halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 and achieving a full recovery for nature by 2050, and conserving 25 percent of lands and oceans by 2025, working towards 30 percent of each by 2030.
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Government of Manitoba
Seal River Watershed Alliance
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