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Mushkegowuk Council aims to create new National Marine Conservation Area

Mushkegowuk Council is calling for the creation of a National Marine Conservation Area covering the entire coastal and marine ecosystem around western James Bay and Hudson Bay.

It's a globally significant step, environmental group says

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Soloman is embarking on a plan to have the conservation area in place in five years (Supplied by Jonathan Solomon)

Mushkegowuk Council is calling for the creation of a National Marine Conservation Area covering the entire coastal and marine ecosystem around western James Bay and Hudson Bay.

Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon says it's a pro-active step to preserve the Omushkego way of life, including harvesting, ceremonial rights, sacred sites, and travel routes for future generations. Solomon says their way of life is under threat due to climate change already — and wants to forestall the possibility of offshore oil development.

He's expecting opposition from the government.

"They're probably going to tell us, 'you got no rights over what you're doing'. Because they think they own the land," he said.

"But I've always stated this is Treaty land. It's a partnership agreement, and they have to come to the table and talk to us about what our endeavour is."

Solomon says an Indigenous-led task force is about to launch community engagement that will guide the planning process, including how far inland the preservation area will extend.

The Mushkegowuk Council announced today that it wants the Federal Government to come to the table to create a National Marine Conservation Area that would span Western James Bay and Hudson Bay. According to the council, the Indigenous-led pursuit is about protecting "the Mushkegowuk way of life." The CBC's Kate Rutherford spoke with Grand Chief Jonathan Soloman about the purpose of this effort. 7:51

An environmental group says creating a National Marine Conservation Area on the western coast of James Bay is a globally significant step.

Wildlands League spokesperson Anna Baggio says they have been working with Mushkegowuk Council for about a year in preparation for consultation and a feasibility study.

Baggio says there have been similar Indigenous-led movements.

"There are actually examples all across the country. Nunavut in Canada worked on establishing a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound. There's even a National Marine Conservation Area in Lake Superior," she said.

The timing of the project is perfect, Solomon adds.

"Canada is trying to meet its 25 per cent by 2025 to make Conservation targets for the oceans surrounding the
country. Our friends and colleagues at the eastern part of James Bay, the Eeyou Istchee, are doing the same process, and other Indigenous groups are also working on protected areas in the James Bay and Hudson Bay. It's a win, win, win and more wins all the way."

With files from Kate Rutherford

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