Before people build a house, they draft blueprints that determine how the house will be laid out and how the family will live in the home with their children and grandchildren. Land use plans play a similar role. They help communities envision how they will live on the land for generations to come.
Participants in the Northern Values have identified the importance of land use plans for achieving cooperation, clarity, respect and certainty across Manitoba’s boreal forest. The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) is one of the communities demonstrating what that looks like on the ground.
Located 70 miles west of Thompson, NCN is home to crystal clear lakes, boreal forest, culturally important lands, and is also a place of mining activities, forestry and hydro-electric development. Four years ago, the community embarked on a planning process to determine how they want to manage 5.6 million acres of territory: which lands do they want to conserve, where do they want to allow development and where do they want to build infrastructure.
NCN engaged the entire community in answering these questions. They held meetings with their Elders, youth, women, harvesters, leaders, hunters and fishers. They conducted scores of interviews to identify culturally important activities such as hunting areas, burial grounds and places to harvest medicinal plants to name a few. And they created extensive maps that weave together traditional land use and occupancy patterns and various GIS data.
Out of this process, a plan has emerged that reflects the community’s values and aspirations for the land. “This plan will help us with decision making,” says NCN Resource Management Board member Ed Vystrcil. “It will provide certainty, because it shows what’s important to the people, where we are okay with development and where we want to protect the land. We will take pride in this document and its implementation.”
NCN expects to finalize the plan by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, several other communities in northern Manitoba are poised to move forward with their own planning processes, but many need more support to make this a reality. Increased investments in Indigenous land use planning—as well as other community and regional plans—will provide greater certainty and clarity across the north. Together they will create a blueprint for balancing sustainable development and conservation across the North.