Manitoba

Province creates new parks on Lake Winnipegosis, but leaves out island with mining potential

The province has extended protections to a network of islands on Lake Winnipegosis that local First Nations have worried in recent months could be vulnerable to mining, but the fate of one island remains unclear.

Goose Island, Grand Island parks comprise 8 islands, but 9th island won't receive same protections

Pelicans spend the spring and summer months on and around the Goose Island and Grand Island areas, both of which have been granted provincial park status. (Gillian Richards)

The province has extended protections to a network of islands on Lake Winnipegosis that local First Nations have worried could be vulnerable to mining, but the fate of one island remains unclear.

Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox announced the creation of Goose Island and Grand Island provincial parks Thursday. The parks comprise eight islands on Lake Winnipegosis, about 350 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

"These islands will be protected and will remain undeveloped, ensuring that Manitobans are able to enjoy our natural sites and Indigenous peoples have continued access to the area for hunting, trapping, fishing and other traditional pursuits," Cox said in a statement.

Even the birds are going to start leaving, everything is going to leave that island. It's going to be a ghost island.- Thomas Nepinak

Ron Thiessen, Manitoba's executive director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the group was relieved to hear the lands were made provincial parks.

The islands make up about 1,100 hectares of land in the northern part of the lake and provide an important habitat for moose, fox and several migratory bird species, including pelicans and Caspian terns.

Pemmican Island excluded

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation and Pine Creek First Nation border the lake near the islands, which were temporarily granted park reserve status between 2001 and 2016. That status expired this past December, and Sapotaweyak Chief Nelson Genaille raised concerns at the time that potential resource exploration could damage the culturally and ecologically significant islands.

Reserve status for the Goose, Grand and Pemmican islands expired on Dec. 14. On Thursday, the Pallister government decided to make eight of nine islands in the area into two provincial parks. (Government of Manitoba)

"First Nations people have stewarded these islands and the lake for countless generations and they remain essential to us for subsistence and for cultural practices," Genaille said in a statement.

"The water, the islands and the wildlife need to be protected for us now and for those yet to be born."

Previous surveys revealed zinc and nickel ore deposits in the ground and lake beds around Pemmican Island, a ninth piece of land that was not included in either park.

Without park or preserve status, Pemmican is not protected from industrial development, Thiessen said. He hasn't been given any indication mining will occur directly on Pemmican Island, but he believes one reason it wasn't included in the parks is so that resource exploration can still occur in the shallows that surround the island.

"As a conservation organization, we're concerned about this because mining exploration can cause quite a lot of ecological damage," Thiessen said. "Any kind of damage on the island will be quite significant."

'A ghost island'

Thomas Nepinak, community liaison for Pine Creek and a long-time resource advocate for nearby First Nations, said any mining or resource exploration that goes on at Pemmican Island will hurt Indigenous people.

A mineral exploration licence has been issued but the province is not aware of any exploration timelines.- Manitoba government

"The water is sacred to us, and any mining that's done there, it's going to harm the lake," Nepinak said. 

"It's also going to destroy the habitat of the animals … even the birds are going to start leaving, everything is going to leave that island. It's going to be a ghost island. That's what I've been told by elders, and I am an elder now, I am 70 years old."

Nepinak said his grandfather and ancestors used to go to the island to hunt and make pemmican, a traditional food made of animal fat, meat and berries.

"It was passed down not only to Indigenous people but to all of the people of Manitoba and even Canada who wanted to go and see that area, the aesthetics of the land," Nepinak said.

"We are supposed to respect the land, all living things on it, and so far the government is not respecting it."

A spokesperson for the province said the departments of Sustainable Development and Growth, Enterprise and Trade have had discussions with "relevant Indigenous communities and stakeholders" about proposed mineral exploration on Pemmican Island.

"The departments will work closely with industry partners to ensure minimal impact on the island and its associated habitat so that possible permanent protection can be pursued once exploration is complete," the spokesperson said.

"A mineral exploration licence has been issued but the province is not aware of any exploration timelines."

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology. Before joining CBC Manitoba, he worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service monitoring birds in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Alberta. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.