The Far North Promise
In July 2008, the McGuinty government announced its intention to enter into a formal partnership with First Nation Communities in Ontario’s northern boreal region to initiate much needed economic development while preserving the unique ecology of the northern boreal forest.
Fifty percent of Ontario’s northern boreal region would be permanently protected while the other fifty percent would be opened to mining and forestry development. This announcement received praise by many human rights and environmental organizations.
But supporters of the Northern Boreal Initiative ignored outstanding questions that should have defined the basic principles of this agreement.
In June 2009, the Ontario government introduced Bill 191, Far North Act, 2009 - the Act that legislates the Northern Boreal Initiative. The legislation undermines the rights of First Nation Communities to control industrial development on their traditional lands and fails to describe how it intends to protect half of the northern boreal forest.
As of October 2009, several First Nation communities - Pikangikum First Nation, Slate Falls First Nation, Cat Lake First Nation, Pauingassi First Nation and Little Grand Rapids First Nation have entered into negotiations with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to develop their lands. Pikangikum First Nation entered into negotiations several years ago and has already mapped out 35% protected area within their ancestral lands.
While all Nations intend to protect their traditional ways, to date the ministry and specifically Pikangikum First Nation have failed to articulate how they intend to balance the integrity of their ancestral lands while inviting historically polluting and habitat destroying industries such as commercial forestry and mining. Pikangikum First Nation will likely allow large-scale clearcutting as currently practiced in the southern boreal commercial forest.
World Heritage Site
Pauingassi First Nation and Little Grand Rapids First Nation in partnership with First Nations across the Manitoba border are associated with the Boreal Forest Heritage Site. With the support of both provincial governments, they have proposed creating an internationally recognized network of protected areas and managed landscapes on their ancestral lands and to seek UNESCO designation of the area as a World Heritage Site. The project is known as Pimachiowin Aki and the project area contains 40,147 km2 of boreal forest that includes the First Nations’ traditional lands and contiguous protected areas on both sides of the provincial border.
However, this new network of protected area is primarily comprised of existing protected parkland in Ontario - Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. The Ontario government proposes new additions to the park but the total protected area will amount to only 8.500 km2 -less than one quarter of the total project area.
We have expressed our concerns to Slate Falls First Nation, Cat Lake First Nation and Pikangikum First Nation. Slate Falls and Cat Lake First Nations failed to address our concerns while Pikangikum First Nation referred us back to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
First Nation Communities will set aside a greater landbase for protection than the Ontario government (currently only 9% of Ontario is designated as protect areas) but development of the northern boreal forest is proceeding at a rapid pace with minimal ecological inventory.
Fundamental questions remain unanswered:
- How can destroying 50% of pristine land – one of the largest intact boreal forest regions in the world – protect the remaining boreal ecology?
- How was this 50% protection determined? Is it enough to retain vital ecological function?
- Mining, Forestry, Oil and Gas and Hydro Electric are the major industries most interested in developing the northern boreal. How can these industries operate in a sustainable manner given their history of pollution and habitat destruction?
- Is the Ontario government willing to share control and decision making authority with First Nation Communities?
- How will areas be assessed for conservation value, development?
Please help defend one of the largest intact boreal forest regions in the world - Ontario’s northern boreal forest.
Action Alert: The cries of The Lorax have never been more urgent
Far North Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources
Policy Proposal Notice - Pauingassi First Nation Community-based Land Use Plan EBR Registry # 010-7334 and 010-7368
Policy Proposal Notice - Whitefeather Forest Dedicated Protected Areas – Pauingassi First Nation
EBR Registry # 010-8821