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Crees Share Vision of Land Stewardship and Conservation at World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia

(Sydney, Australia, November 14, 2014) Rodney Mark, Deputy Grand Chief for the Cree Nation presented his Government’s vision for land stewardship and conservation in Eeyou Istchee (Crees’ traditional territory in northern Québec) to a worldwide audience at the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) World Parks Congress.

Held every 10 years, the World Parks Congress will draw over 5000 conservation experts from governments, industry, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples. The Cree Nation Government is a member of the IUCN, and is actively engaged in working on conservation solutions. The theme of the Congress— Parks, People, Planet—Inspiring Solutions – was selected as a means to motivate the nearly 200 countries that signed on to the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. As part of the United Nation’s Convention on Biodiversity, these targets call for bold new action to safeguard global biodiversity. In keeping with this theme, Deputy Grand Chief Mark, with support from Patrick Nadeau from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), presented the Cree Nation Government’s Conservation Strategy.

The Cree Nation Government’s Conservation Strategy is focused on maintaining the land and seas of Eeyou Istchee in a fashion that allows the Crees to continue their subsistence way of life while embracing modernity. This stewardship will be accomplished by blending traditional Cree practices of land management and modern conservation tools such as protected areas, parks and conservation zoning.

For centuries, the Crees led a semi-nomadic life on the land that was anchored through familial spatial relationships. In this way Crees were able to manage and conserve the limited food resources found in the harsh boreal landscape. In the past century, this traditional approach evolved into a system of land management through family hunting territories, also known as traplines. These family hunting territories and the cultural values underpinning them has since been recognized in a formal treaty—the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975)—with Canada and the province of Québec.

 Leveraging their right to a land base with the integrity to support the traditional family hunting territories, the Crees continue to advocate for a balanced approach to the development of Eeyou Istchee. Deputy Grand Chief, Rodney Mark said:

“The Crees consider resource development on their lands with a basic question: does the project add value to the Cree Nation without compromising our core rights and traditions? If yes, then we proceed to verify and work toward supportive partnerships. If no, we mobilize.”

 Recognizing their place in the global context and with their emerging role in governance, the Crees are now taking an active role in conservation planning for their territory. Projects like the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan, the Waswanipi Lake Protected Area, the Tawich marine park proposal, the Assinica Cree Heritage Park, and the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park are but a sample of a growing number of projects that will both protect Cree core traditional values while contributing to Québec’s patrimony.

Patrick Nadeau, from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, who accompanied the Deputy Grand Chief in the presentation remarked:

“Conservation organizations like CPAWS share similar goals with indigenous peoples for safeguarding their territories. We wanted to share our experience in working with the Crees here at the World Parks Congress because we believe these partnerships offer the best opportunity for making significant gains in the amount of lands that are protected, not only in Québec but globally.”

With the recent revival of the Plan Nord in Québec, the Cree Nation Government believes that participating in largest-ever gathering of conservation experts is an ideal opportunity to promote its Conservation Strategy. Deputy Grand Chief, Rodney Mark said:

“We welcome the Government of Québec’s re-engagement in its commitment to protect 50% of the Plan Nord territory from industrial development. We encourage Quebec to prove their commitment by taking immediate action in designating the proposed protected areas in the Broadback Watershed Conservation Plan.”