The Ontario government and the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents eight northern First Nations, are in talks to establish a conservation zone near Hudson Bay and James Bay.
Last year, the federal government announced it would help the Mushkegowuk Council fund an estimated 300,000-square-kilometre conservation area in northern Ontario. Since then, the council has been trying to bring Ontario to the table to discuss the conservation zone.
In an email to Canada’s National Observer, interim director of lands and resources Lawrence Martin said members of the council had a “positive” meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford last week. He said Ontario has agreed to form a treaty table with the Mushkegowuk Council to discuss land use and the conservation area.
“We are hoping that Ontario and Canada and Mushkegowuk and the funders will all work together toward this end,” Martin said.
The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development has not commented at the time of publication.
The conservation area is one of four Indigenous-led projects under the federal government’s Project Finance for Permanence model, which combines funding from different levels of government and private philanthropists.
The same model financed the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest along British Columbia’s coast. Last week, the federal government announced the Northwest Territories’ government and the leadership of several Indigenous governments came to a similar agreement.
For time immemorial, Mushkego First Nations have been the stewards of the lowlands that wrap around James Bay and Hudson Bay. The conservation zone would create long-term jobs for members of the First Nation to continue to protect their land.
The Mushkegowuk Council’s conservation zone is projected to cover about 130,000 square kilometres of the Hudson Bay Lowlands peatland complex — one of the world’s largest planet-cooling carbon sinks. It also includes about 75,000 square kilometres of forest and a 90,000-square-kilometre marine conservation area in Hudson Bay.
Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford met with members of the Mushkegowuk Council, opening discussions about a 300,000-square-kilometre conservation zone.
Martin said he hopes the Ontario and Mushkego First Nations’ governments can sign a formal agreement to form a treaty table by next year.