More than a million people identified themselves as Indigenous in Canada’s 2006 census. They live in urban, rural and remote places, as well as on reserves across the country. They speak 50 distinct Indigenous languages and each of them have their own histories, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs. Parks Canada works in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and a wide variety of Indigenous groups throughout the country, to protect and present special places where Canadians can connect and enjoy, in ways that leave them unimpaired, for future generations.
However, that has not always been the case. Indigenous peoples were excluded when Canada’s first national parks were created. When Banff National Park of Canada was established in 1885, Stoney Indians who had travelled and hunted in the area for centuries were kept out of the park. Indigenous peoples were not involved when seven national parks were established in the early twentieth century, mostly in southern Canada. And traditional hunting and gathering was prohibited in these parks.
Over the past decades, Parks Canada has come to recognize that effectively managing national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas means working in cooperation with partners; particularly those who have a unique perspective stemming from, in some cases, more than 50 generations of land stewardship. Today, the Agency works with more than 300 Indigenous groups to maintain, protect and present our 42 national parks, more than 167 national historic sites, including 9 historic canals and 10 world heritage sites, and 4 marine conservation areas.
In 1922, Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada became northern Canada’s first national park, established to protect Wood Bison from extinction. Unlike southern parks, it was acknowledged that Indigenous peoples’ traditional activities would not negatively affect Wood Bison and that prohibiting these activities would have a negative impact on the traditional customs and way of life of Indigenous peoples. Consequently, hunting and trapping continued under a permit system and a Hunters and Trappers Association was formed to set permit limits on an annual basis. It was the first time that Parks Canada involved Indigenous peoples in a decision regarding the management of a park. It was also the beginning of a legacy of cooperative management that is now prevalent throughout the northern Parks Canada system.
As land claims negotiations took place with northern Indigenous peoples, it became evident that opportunities existed for a shared vision of resource protection that allowed hunting, trapping and other cultural activities to continue as part of a modern day treaty. Following the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement and the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Parks Canada began negotiations to establish parks that included a provision for cooperative management boards. The term ‘’cooperative’’ meant the signatory Indigenous groups would have an opportunity to participate in making decisions related to the planning and operation of the proposed park.
As well, a 1974 amendment to the Canada National Parks Act allowed national parks to be established under a “reserve” status. This meant that sections of land would be set aside as park reserves and managed as national parks until land claims pertaining to that land were resolved. This has been an effective tool for forging strong relationships with Indigenous peoples and protecting lands from development by third parties during land claim negotiations.
Including the voices of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in the planning and management of heritage areas is now a common practice within Parks Canada. Advisory bodies range from informal structures that provide ad hoc advice, to ones that are set out in formal agreements such as cooperative management boards established through park establishment agreements. These bodies have equal Indigenous and government representation; provide advice to the minister on cultural matters and other issues of importance to Indigenous partners; provide input into park, site or national marine conservation area management plans; and, operate by consensus
Parks Canada sees the need to develop a framework to engage Indigenous peoples in planning and managing national heritage areas by means of formal relationships with Indigenous partners. This means Indigenous peoples have an opportunity to offer their perspectives when the management planning process begins – not at the end as part of broad public consultations. This promotes the engagement of Indigenous communities by allowing their perspectives to influence and identify key issues, challenges and opportunities to be considered in management plans
© Parks Canada
In 1999, Parks Canada established the Indigenous Affairs Branch to provide overall leadership with respect to building meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples. Reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer, the Indigenous Affairs Branch specific priorities include supporting relationship building with Indigenous partners, promoting economic development and tourism opportunities, supporting commemoration and presentation of Indigenous themes and encouraging Indigenous employment throughout the organization.
The Indigenous Affairs Branch is also the secretariat for the Chief Executive Officer’s 12-member Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ACC). Established in 2000 to create meaningful dialogue with Indigenous leaders who have a direct association with heritage places that Parks Canada administers, the committee meets three times a year to provide ongoing advice and guidance to the Agency. The committee provides open and frank dialogue between Parks Canada's leadership and Indigenous partners on a wide range of issues. Other federal departments recognize it as an innovative way to share information and seek input from Indigenous peoples
© Nicola Pritchett / Parks Canada
The Agency also supports the Aboriginal Working Group (AWG), a national committee of employees who advise the Agency on all aspects of Indigenous employment. It also created the Aboriginal Leadership Development Program (ALDP), a national four-year program where Indigenous employees gather annually to learn skills ranging from management principles to communications and community interaction based on Indigenous values. The goal is to develop a cadre of Indigenous leaders within Parks Canada - a knowledgeable, skilled network of individuals in a variety of functions and levels in the organization. The program’s fundamental goal is full-time, long-term retention of Indigenous leaders in the Agency through skills development and personal learning plans.
In an effort to highlight Indigenous peoples’ and Parks Canada’s achievements, the Indigenous Affairs Branch has prepared this compendium to share some of our best practices in working together to deliver Parks Canada’s program activities and strategic outcomes. This document celebrates the many people who make relationships work. It celebrates the exemplary roles and values all of us can assume in our day to day dealing with each other, as partners and as people who share this land and who want to ensure its protection for future generations. We hope these stories will inspire new ideas and lead to new partnering opportunities.