Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) –

Shawanaga First Nations Community

by Erica Allen, President of PaBIA

Our Shawanaga First Nations Neighbours

Long before the summer of 1615 when Samuel de Champlain travelled up the Ottawa River, along the French river and south throughout the 30,000 islands to Penetanguishene, our First Nations forbearers inhabited what we now know as Georgian Bay.

“Shawanaga,” in Ojibwe, means “Long Bay,” which refers to Georgian Bay and its shape. The Shawanaga Nation, belonging to the larger Anishinabek Nation which stretches across much of Ontario, lived in what we now know as Pointe au Baril. Throughout history, the Shawanaga First Nation has used, respected and cared for the area.  Today Shawanaga First Nation has 608 community members; 188 reside on-reserve and 420 reside off-reserve, according to the Shawanaga official website.

Biodiversity Threatened

The Boreal Caribou, the Eastern whip-poor will and Pitcher’s thistle are but a few of the threatened species in Ontario. Ecosystems are uniquely interconnected; if one link in the chain disappears, the entire chain will be adversely affected. We must protect and preserve them to ensure the health of the planet and all living things on it. In addition, the global threat of climate change is putting Northern Ontario’s ecosystems at risk. Biodiversity in our ecosystems is absolutely necessary to ensure a healthy environment, and Indigenous communities are leading efforts to protect natural spaces in Ontario and across the country.

What Steps has Canada taken to Protect Biodiversity?

In 2010, Canada and over 190 other countries met at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan. At issue was the rapid loss of biodiversity taking place across the planet. Building from the Convention, Canada adopted the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada. Target 1 aimed to protect at least 17% (up from 10%) of terrestrial areas and inland water, along with 10% of marine and coastal areas (the government has since promised to protect 25% of Canada’s lands and waters by 2025 and 30% by 2030).

Unfortunately, Canada has a long way to go in meeting these targets. As of January 2020, Ontario has only conserved 12% of lands, and nationally, but has surpassed the 10% goal of coastal and Marine areas. However, in an effort to achieve its conservation goals, Canada has committed to supporting Indigenous engagement in conservation. Thus, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) have become a centerpiece of this effort.

In June of this year, Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change ,Jonathan Wilkinson, announced over 60 conservation projects funded under the Target 1 Challenge. Nearly half of the projects are Indigenous-led, including four projects across Northern Ontario, one of which is Shawanaga Island.

What is an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA)?

“IPCA are places that Indigenous Nations identify for conservation. These lands help sustain communities and the health of the world. IPCAs are often designated through Indigenous law, then through partnerships with Crown governments. These are Nation-to-Nation agreements in which each party outlines roles and responsibilities. IPCAs may be co-designated as national parks or national wildlife areas, but Indigenous Nations are always co-creators.” 

 Three core principles shared by IPCAs:

• They are Indigenous led

• They represent a long-term commitment to conservation

• They elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities

Shawanaga First Nation (SFN) has been identified as an IPCA caretaker and has been approved for a Federal grant of up to $1 million for the four year project, which will run until March 31st, 2023.  “This project is a critical step to conserving the biodiversity of the area and protecting its cultural heritage,” read the announcement from SFN. Shawanaga Island is located within the traditional territory of Shawanaga First Nation. The proposed Shawanaga Island Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area consists of approximately 1,020 hectares of assumed Crown (Treaty) land plus inland waters, coastline and nearshore waters. “This project will establish an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area that recognizes our rights and responsibilities as caretakers of our traditional lands and waters.”

The creation of the area is a collaboration between SFN and both the provincial and federal governments. Band manager Adam Good said that SFN was “extremely excited” to do their part to help prevent climate change and protect at-risk species with the project.

“The Shawanaga Island Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area project will redefine the relationship between our people and our non-Indigenous neighbours in the Georgian Bay region,” read the announcement.

According to SFN, the project will do the following:

• Allow Shawanaga First Nation to assert our rights and responsibilities as caretakers of our traditional lands and waters.

• Conserve cultural keystone species and protect food security.

• Grow understanding of and respect for our language, knowledge systems, protocols and ceremony.

• Support the development of conservation economies in the areas of ecotourism and environmental monitoring.

Shawanaga First Nation has invited several other organizations to collaborate with them on the creation of the Protected Area, including several conservation organizations (the GBB, the GBF and the GBLT), Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbours, Township of the Archipelago and PaBIA, academics, and federal and provincial agencies. The goal of creating a Protected Area on Shawanaga Island will be “to acknowledge Shawanaga’s rights and responsibilities as keepers of the land, protect the species that live there, and help us build connections with our neighbours. We will gain skills, and build awareness of our knowledge systems, language and culture. Shawanaga First Nation and partners will together learn about the life on the island. We will create a long-term management plan for Shawanaga Island that balances use and protection of the island for the next seven generations.”

There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to these projects. Governance and management objectives of IPCAs are determined by individual communities themselves. And although protecting biodiversity is a key function of IPCAs, they are also aimed at revitalizing Indigenous languages, cultures and protocols – and supporting sustainable, conservation economies. 

Shawanaga Island Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area will be a place where Shawanaga First Nation will lead the protection and care of the lands and waters using Indigenous laws and knowledge and where their members will continue to practice their way of life. 

What is PaBIA’s Role and What Level of Engagement Have We Had?

PaBIA’s mission is to unite together our island and coastal community to preserve and protect its unique natural environment.  We are fully engaged in this mission and encouraged that our FN neighbours are aligned.  We have the opportunity to help the Shawanaga people communicate their goals and the progress of the IPCA to our members via our e-blasts and other means of communication. We can share with them our resources to support the success of this project. An example of this is to share in the results of our mutual water quality testing which allows us to expand our research area.  We share a passion for our summer paradise and are happy to engage with our First Nation’s neighbours to ensure we protect our natural region for generations to come.

On eastern shoreline of Shawanaga Island is a new dock – put there to enable boats to tie up and for folks to visit

The Future

While at the time of writing the Shawanaga Island action plan and what this new designation will mean is still in development, but many of you may have noticed a new dock on the island. On the eastern shore across from Josephine Rocks, this new dock is the first step for the SFN to fulfill their mandate to protect and preserve the natural habitat on the island along with the culture of the First Nation. One idea is to perhaps build a gazebo or visitors building to create a cross-cultural learning center. While these are early days, this project offers a chance to chart a different path which protects biodiversity while advancing reconciliation.