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Reconciliation in Action: Building Meaningful Relationships in Canada's Biosphere Reserves

13 September 2019

A man holds a piece of smoked fish on a beach.

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO is committed to moving the reconciliation process forward, especially through concrete initiatives that encourage respect and understanding.

At its heart, Reconciliation in Action is about building meaningful relationships with Indigenous Peoples. To that end, in 2018, CCUNESCO (with the Community Conservation Research Network) supported the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association in a project to develop a series of reflection papers and short videos (two to five minutes) that would bring to life stories of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canadian biosphere reserves. 

Created by individuals with deep connections to the biosphere reserves, the stories provide powerful and diverse perspectives on how to develop meaningful relationships and share knowledge respectfully between cultures. In their submissions, authors and creators were asked to address questions such as:

  • What have you learned about Indigenous Peoples in your region?
  • What activities or initiatives have you carried out to learn about or work with Indigenous Peoples in your region?
  • What have you done to demonstrate respect, build relationships, and/or renew your commitment?
  • What has worked well (tips, strategies)?
  • What challenges have you faced, and how did you (or do you) address them?
  • What makes these efforts valuable?
  • What opportunities lie ahead?

See below for short summaries of the works. Some of the videos were produced by TVO, which travelled across Canada to capture and report on a selection of the country’s stunning biosphere reserves for an eight-part cinematic documentary series called Striking Balance.

The Bras d'Or Lake Biosphere Reserve includes the Bras d'Or Lake and its watershed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and is situated in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. This reflection paper, “Reconciling with the Land and Each Other,” is a story of collaborative environmental stewardship. An example of this is Bras d’Or Watch, a citizen science project that aims to strengthen the human-habitat bond by providing a forum for citizens to interact with their place. A key message promoted is that ‘Reconciliation’ with the land is a priority and is something that strengthens the cultural bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples as they all work with a common purpose.

The Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and is also a community foundation serving the region. This paper, entitled “Celebrating a Place We All Call Home: Reconciliation in our Relationships on Vancouver Island’s West Coast,” focuses on a September 2017 gathering that saw more than 800 residents and representatives of all communities in the Clayoquot Sound region join in a spirit of healing and reconciliation to recognize their unique strengths, shared history and cultural diversity. This “hišinqʷiił” (the Nuu-chah-nulth name for “to gather indoors”) represented an opportunity to move forward in a positive direction.

The Manicouagan-Uapishka World Biosphere Reserve covers most of the Pessamit Nitassinan, the traditional lands of the Innu. Its story, “A New Kind of Research Station,” focuses on Uapishka Station, whose mission is to stimulate the acquisition and sharing of scientific and traditional knowledge, foster the socio-professional integration of Indigenous People (especially youth), and promote the current occupation of the Nitassinan. This “research and reconciliation” story highlights how co-governance is setting the tone and paving the way for collaboration between the biosphere reserve and the Pessamit Innu Council.

The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region on Vancouver Island is situated within the traditional territories of seven different First Nations communities, shares similar boundaries with the Regional District of Nanaimo, B.C., and is home to about 45,000 people. Discussing the innovative governance model for area, this paper, “Working towards Reconciliation in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region,” explains how the region’s governing Roundtable body has been an integral part of the pathway toward reconciliation.

Quote
Neither trust nor respect are simply given, they must be earned. The Roundtable partners have now worked respectfully with one another for just over 3 years. We are all continually trying to earn one another’s trust and respect. At times, the fragility of relationships can still be felt, but we are working towards bettering our relationships and creating a unified future for all those inhabiting our biosphere region. With each meeting we attend, each project we collaborate on, and each visit with one another, we are taking another step towards reconciliation. - From ''Reconciliation in Action: Working Towards Reconciliation in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region''

Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve is Saskatchewan’s only biosphere reserve. Located within Treaty Six territory, it is home to Cree, Ojibwa and Assiniboine Nations. This paper, entitled “astam, pī-pīkiskwātotān,” (“Come, let’s talk together”) is a story about friendship, partnership, reconciliation and common goals for conserving nature in the reserve. It discusses the need to begin with Indigenous knowledge and perspectives when tackling projects such as land stewardship, regional planning or flood mitigation.

Tsá Tué International Biosphere Reserve covers some 93,000 square kilometres in the Northwest Territories, making it the largest in North America. It is also the only one of over 700 international UNESCO biosphere reserves worldwide that has been led by Indigenous Peoples through all stages of its development to date. While challenges remain, as the first Indigenous-led biosphere reserve, it is a glowing example and model of Reconciliation in Action, especially with regard to educating people about the power and importance of water.

Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. Situated within Anishinaabek territory, it partners with Indigenous Peoples to care for the area’s shared air, land and water. This story reminds us that partnership in the spirit of truth and reconciliation is not always easy, and that no single person can represent the fullness of our experiences. It documents where stewards of the reserve have been and currently are on their journey toward reconciliation.

Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve covers some 15,000 square kilometres of forest and prairie in central Manitoba and is home to about 30,000 people. The area is rich in lakes, streams and natural habitat. The video, “Not About Garbage,” discusses how forging friendships and learning about past and shared histories from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives laid the foundation for a collaborative project to address an aging landfill and waste management.

  • Tag Environment
  • Tag Indigenous cultures
  • Tag Indigenous languages
  • Tag Reconciliation
  • Tag Sustainable development