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HISTORY IN THE MAKING: WINNIPEG REGION MUNICIPAL LEADERS AND FIRST NATIONS SIGN MOU
By Suzanne Forcese
Municipal leaders of the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region (WMR) and the Chiefs of the Southern Chiefs' Organization have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognizing the considerable political value of First Nation and municipal governments formally agreeing to work together on common goals and interests. The Memorandum was signed by the 25 elected leaders working together in the Collaborative Leadership Initiative (CLI) on March 1, 2019, at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site in St. Andrews, Manitoba - the location of the historic signing of Treaty 1 in 1871.
Treaty I, an agreement established between the Imperial Crown of Great Britain and Ireland with the Anishanabe and Swampy Cree Nations was the first of a series of 11 treaties called the Numbered Treaties. It was to be an accord about peace and friendship. The signings between 1871- 1921 ended with the indigenous peoples agreeing "to cede, release, surrender and yield up to her Majesty the Queen and successors forever all the lands in southern Manitoba to the Crown, in exchange for an annuity, material goods and agricultural supplies". This treaty has been considered controversial due to the different intentions and understandings of Canadian officials and the indigenous communities.
WMR is comprised of 18 municipalities that include and surround Winnipeg. It provides the platform for municipalities to work on projects that cross boundaries in support of good growth, good stewardship and good governance.
Colleen Sklar, the Executive Director of WMR, told Water Today that the mayors and reeves around Winnipeg and the indigenous leaders in the South Basin "who all agree that the status quo is not good enough" have been working together for the past year and a half on a Reconciliation and Action Plan building a relationship to prepare to work together in protecting the province's water and community issues. "The mayors and reeves have to be congratulated. It has been a pleasure to work with them in a process to align governance with government." Sklar's background is in the area of conflict resolution and mediation and has spent the past 10 years working to protect Lake Winnipeg. "I have come to realize that water issues happen at a policy level and this is why we have to work at a governance level. If we work together we have a greater impact."
The Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) represents 34 southern First nation communities in Manitoba working as an independent forum to protect, preserve, promote , and enhance First Nation peoples' inherent rights, languages, customs, and traditions throughout the application and implementation of the spirit and intent of the Treaty-making process. "Through the CLI, we have created a strong platform to further build our relationship by sharing the priorities and needs of our communities with each other," said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of SCO, "By signing the MOU we are formalizing our relationship as two levels of government. This enables us to progressively lead our communities toward shared prosperity, sustainable economic development and healthy lands and waters, working with other levels of government and the business sector."
Manitoba has had a long history of multi-stakeholder initiates that try to face the challenges facing Lake Winnipeg; however, these have had varying levels of success.
The Collaborative Process Initiative is about governance and reconciliation to improve outcomes for Lake Winnipeg. This initiate also works to meet broader political and legal commitments to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.
The collaborative vision of WMR and SCO has a wide scope as both groups also look to the guidance provided by the Manitoba provincial Government.
Sklar praises the Provincial Government's Climate and Green Plan. "It is a fantastic document." The Green Plan sets out 4 main pillars - climate, jobs, water, nature - as its integrated focus. The water pillar brings together the challenges of water quality and quantity. It also recognizes management must happen locally and regionally on a watershed basis to find integrated solutions that work. Since agriculture is a mainstay of Manitoba's economy, addressing land and water use together can help harness natural opportunities for managing irrigation, prospering through climate change, sequestering carbon on agricultural land and increasing yields. "If we can follow this plan that focuses on our natural assets and water protection and if we can align our collaborative efforts with local leaders and policy leaders focusing on governance then we are doing our part in the relay race."
Treaty 1 includes The Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation located 64 kilometres north of Winnipeg and Fort Alexander First Nation (Sagkeeng) situated 122 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg metropolitan Region and the South Basin of Lake Winnipeg (17 municipalities) and the City of Winnipeg, the traditional,
Treaty Land Entitlement and reserve territories of 36 First Nations and part of the traditional homeland of the Metis Nation includes 65% of the population and 70 % of the GDP pf Manitoba and is immediately upstream of Lake Winnipeg. Decisions made in this region directly affect the health and sustainability of Lake Winnipeg.
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