Mushkegowuk Council and Parks Canada are going to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Aug. 9 regarding the National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA) project.
The signing of the MOU will launch a three-year feasibility study in the western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay region.
“I’m very relieved at this stage of the game. This will mark the first step of moving into the three-year feasibility study,” said the marine project manager Lawrence Martin. “Parks Canada has been really nice and easy to work with. We have similar conservation plans for James Bay and Hudson Bay, so it worked really well.”
Last October, Mushkegowuk chiefs approved a motion to have nation-to-nation talks with the federal government about establishing the NMCA.
Mushkegowuk Council is working on the project with Oceans North, Wildlands League and Oceans Collaborative. In addition to Mushkegowuk’s seven First Nations, Weenusk First Nation and Fort Severn have also joined the project.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson and Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon will be signing the MOU during a ceremony in Moose Factory.
Moose Cree First Nation Chief Mervin Cheechoo and Mushkegowuk’s director of lands and resources Vern Cheechoo are also expected to be on hand.
There will be COVID-19 protocols in place including masks, physical distancing and requiring all visitors to have a rapid test upon arrival. All attendees have to be fully vaccinated, too, according to Martin.
The next steps for the project will include establishing a steering committee, a task force and a Kookum women’s group that will guide the process and ensure consultations take place within each community.
There will be a socio-economic study looking at the impacts of the NMCA on the region, and a traditional knowledge study, which will include interviews with the Elders on their knowledge of the land, the waters and the wildlife.
The gathered information will be put into a database, which will be accessible to community members at all times, Martin said.
The William Kennedy vessel will be sailing from Churchill, Manitoba, to James Bay and Hudson Bay at the end of this week. The ship will have scientists and researchers on board who will be gathering data on blue carbon, the salinity of the water and more. They will be sending Martin weekly broadcasts, which will be played on the radio for the public.
Budget deliberations with Parks Canada are also ongoing, Martin said adding the project will hire people locally and create "a lot of employment."