Inland lake at Point Grondine Park

© Point Grondine Park

Earlier this year, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna that national parks must be respectful of traditional knowledge. She went on to say that Indigenous protected areas will be one way Canada can achieve its goal of having 17 percent protected land and inland waters by 2020.

The summer issue of ON Nature features Point Grondine as an example of a First Nations protecting land, and stewarding the area’s landscape and rich cultural traditions.

pine and lichen strewn Point Grondine coastline on Georgian Bay

Point Grondine coastline © Todd Veldhuizen courtesy of Point Grondine Park

In the mid-2000s, Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, Point Grondine’s traditional custodian, launched a campaign to protect the area from future development and maintain its ecological integrity by turning it into Ontario’s first First Nation’s owned and operated park.

endangered Algonquin wolf

Algonquin wolf © Rosemary Harris

Point Grondine Park opened in the summer of 2015. Its staff works closely with nearby Killarney Provincial Park staff to exchange expertise. Last year, the two parks signed a partnership agreement that supports and exchange of skills and information between the Wikwemikong First Nation and Point Grondine staff. Killarney will hire one member of the Wikwemikong community as a Killarney Park warden. Killarney staff and visitors will benefit from the traditional knowledge of the Wikwemikong community by hosting interpretive programs led by Point Grondine staff. The new warden will have the opportunity to learn about sustainable recreation and resource management, and bring that knowledge back to Point Grondine.

Canadian Shield and forest along Point Grondine Park trail

Point Grondine Park trail © Noah Cole

For example, Point Grondine’s Making Footprints program draws on this extensive knowledge and leads visitors on an interpretive hike focusing on the traditional uses of area plants and the science of plant-based medicine.

Traditional knowledge and ties to the land make Indigenous peoples a key player in conservation work. Creating new parks is just one way Indigenous communities are involved in protecting land.

“Our first duty is to take care of this place, the Earth, and the blessings that it gives,” says biologist Rick Beaver in Ontario Nature’s report, Indigenous Perspectives on Conservation Offsetting. “The first principle is that we are all connected so there cannot be one winner and some losers. We all win or we all lose.”

Author: Lauren McVittie, Ontario Nature communications intern