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As the world looks for direction towards a sustainable future and First Nations move towards self determination, interesting alliances are emerging.
Over the past months, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Roland Crowe and Resource Management Minister Berny Wiens have met regularly to identify issues and opportunities related to resource management.
Last month, a partnership was signed between the province and the FSIN - the Renewable Resources and Environmental Management Protocol Agreement - to develop a framework for First Nations involvement in co-management of renewable resources in Saskatchewan.
"This agreement recognizes First Nations' belief and respect for the environment and will set the stage to work with FSIN in developing co-operative approaches to environmental and resource management" says Wiens.
"This partnership is a commitment to work in co-operation in managing natural resources which enhances security for our traditional lifestyles and values," says Vice-Chief Dan Bellegarde, who signed the agreement on behalf of Chief Crowe.
Alongside recognition of the valuable contribution First Nations can make to environmental protection, Wiens also recognized the special treaty and constitutional rights involving fish and wildlife that makes it imperative that First Nations be involved in policy making.
Through this agreement, both parties will work towards a common understanding on a range of issues, including community, environmental, social and economic sustainability; environmental protection on reserves and traditional lands; and integrated resource management.
FSIN consultant Pat Woods sees this agreement facilitating discussion on a broad range of issues. "Anything relating to First Nations jurisdiction and inherent right to self-government treaty issues and treaty rights - can be dealt with in this forum," he says.
This partnership has two objectives, he says. It will jointly develop a framework for First Nations involvement in co-management of renewable resources in Saskatchewan, which specifies the roles of First nations, Tribal councils and the Federation. The co- management initiative will be founded on the principles of mutual respect, stewardship, sustainability and inclusive process.
The second objective will be to make this a forum for the discussion of specific issues, with a view to reaching a common understanding and vision on each. The partnership will look at ways of advancing economic and employment projects for business development and revenue generation. Agreement on resource revenue sharing will be on a government to government basis; provincial government and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations making joint decisions for the collective benefit of the province.
FSIN has been instrumental in having Saskatchewan designated as a site for several pilot projects, which will identify workable structures for co-management. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ron Irwin, has committed $600,000 per year for four years to support co-management initiatives.
Co-management agreements will assist First Nations in regaining their economic self-sufficiency through increased opportunities for jobs, Aboriginal businesses, and for joint venture partnerships in resource-related developments between First Nations and the private sector, says Irwin.
The Indian Conservation Officer Summer Project is the first of these to be launched, creating ten summer work experience positions for First Nations resource officer students.
"It is important we provide First Nation youth with opportunities for direct experience in the workplace," says Irwin. "This program will allow these students to work directly with the staff of Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management, gaining invaluable firsthand knowledge which they will be able to apply to their future."
"This partnership is a commitment to
work in co-operation in managing
natural resources which enhances
security for our traditional lifestyles
Vice-Chief Dan Bellegarde
Norman Stevenson, HFT and Special Projects Coordinator anticipates a direct progression from summer program to a longterm program in which FSIN has its own conservation officers. The summer program students were carefully chosen from the Integrated Resource Management Program. Two were graduates, the rest were first and second year students.
Stevenson sees a need for First Nations conservation officers to protect and enforce treaties; not just for aboriginal people, he says, but for the non-Indian too. The terms of the treaties are based on traditional laws and the traditional ways of the old people who respect nature and believe that, above all, the wildlife and the environment must be protected. The summer C0s have already had two sessions with the elders to share their wisdom and can visit them on a daily basis to exchange ideas and learn, says Stevenson.
The Indian Conservation Officer Summer Project is being managed by the FSIN in co-operation with the Saskatchewan Government. It is funded under a cost-sharing arrangement between Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the province of Saskatchewan.
"I expect to see this co-management initiative create on-going opportunities for First Nations people to participate in managing the traditional resources which many of them rely upon for part or all of their livelihood," says Irwin. "I am pleased that the FSIN has put this project together. I hope that First Nations will continue to take a lead role in developing projects which will help create a new era of federal /provincial/ Aboriginal cooperation; an era which will see First Nations people take their rightful place as participants in the economic mainstream of Saskatchewan and Canada," concluded Minister Irwin.
Chief Crowe and the FSIN have every intention of taking the opportunity to follow up with several other co-management pilot projects, in forestry, wildlife, tourism, water, agriculture and minerals, says Wood.
The pilot projects will act as models that will eventually be the basis for co-management initiatives throughout Canada, says Stevenson. "Chief Crowe has been very instrumental in making this happen. He has the vision that eventually all bands will be managing their lands; protecting them for the future of their children.
Compatible philosophies, include conservation of the species for future generations. Both systems also share hunting, fishing and trapping practices and rules, such as no spotlighting; no fishing during spawning season in areas which are sensitive and essential for reproduction of the species as mutually determined between First Nations and the Province; protection of female animals during foaling season; protection of endangered species; respect for private land; the interrelated ecology of the earth, water, plant and wildlife; no commercial sale of big game products for profit; and individual and public safety .
The differences are to be found in the need for Treaty guarantees and an emphasis on First Nations traditional beliefs.
First Nations stress the total use of any animal taken by hunting. For First Nations, there is a close link between the spiritual and practical aspects of the hunt. The relationship of wildlife resources to culture, traditional customs and ceremonial uses may vary from area to area, depending on the traditional customs of Tribes and Nations.
For First Nations, a wildlife management system must include respect for the rights guaranteed to hunt, fish and trap as prescribed by Treaty and as defined by the First Nations in various territories and treaty areas.
And one of the key points in relation to the need for alternative sentencing is First Nations stress on education and training of hunters and fishermen in accordance with traditional practices, as opposed to law enforcement and punishment.
FSIN proposes to establish a Wildlife Management and Justice Program to deal with those charged with violations of Provincial, Federal or First Nations law and regulations, in keeping with First Nations philosophy. This body will have the authority to evaluate the nature of the charges to determine whether a violation has occurred from the perspective of First Nations traditional wildlife management practices and will evaluate whether there is a Treaty Rights component to the case which may override provincial and federal law. These two processes will occur prior to charges being laid and a decision taken to drop or stay charges.
In the case of true violation, the First Nations system will hear the charges, rule on the offence, and determine a proper way of dealing with an offender. In cases where charges are allowed to proceed, the accused will be informed that he or she has the option of having the charges heard in a provincial court system or by the First Nations Justice Panel.
The panel would include First Nations Elders, members of FSIN Wildlife Commission and FSIN Indian Government Commission, a First Nations legal advisor and a representative from the province.
The First Nations Justice, system may prescribe various forms of deterrents and rehabilitation of a convicted offender, which may include compulsory training and education in acceptable wildlife practices, community service, restitution and Elder counselling.
Referrals to this panel will be made by the Chief and Council in a formal resolution for a band member charged with an offence; by a Provincial Government referral to the First Nations Justice System; or by voluntary application from a Treaty or Status First Nations person who has been charged.
In any of these referral processes, the accused must consent to abide by the decisions of the First Nations Justice System, waiving any future rights of appeal. The panel will have the authority to accept or decline any referral.
If there are fines involved, it is proposed that this revenue be directed to a First Nations enforcement agency or to the operational requirements of the First Nations Justice Panel.
It has been proposed that the First Nations Wildlife Justice System be established as a pilot project by FSIN in Saskatchewan, with a view to offering the system to First Nations throughout the country.