First Nation Groups Express Support for Measures to Protect Health of Clear Lake

May 14, 2024

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization is sharing statements from the Coalition of First Nations with Interests in Riding Mountain National Park (the Coalition) and Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation (KOFN) on the topic of Clear Lake.

Statement of the Coalition of First Nations with Interests in Riding Mountain National Park
Regarding Clear Lake, Riding Mountain National Park – May 8, 2024

The Coalition of First Nations with Interests in Riding Mountain National Park (the Coalition) represents the seven First Nations that have inherent rights including historical, cultural and traditional interests in the land that became Riding Mountain National Park. The Coalition includes Keeseekoowenin, Waywayseecappo, Gamblers, Rolling River, Sandy Bay, Ebb & Flow, and Tootinaowaziibeeng. The Coalition First Nations are parties to the Riding Mountain Forum, established in 2006, a multilateral forum between the seven Coalition First Nations and Riding Mountain National Park.

The Coalition agrees that maintaining the ecological integrity of Clear Lake is of the highest priority. We want to ensure that Clear Lake remains protected, safeguarding the aquatic and biological health of the lake for all future generations. The Coalition recognizes that Clear Lake must remain healthy to sustain traditional use, including a Sec 35 fishery, and to maintain it as a prime tourist destination for the people of Manitoba.

Recognizing that if zebra mussels gain a foothold in Clear Lake, it’s mitigation, remediation and eradication efforts will be very costly and may not be successful. Furthermore, a full-blown infestation of zebra mussels in Clear Lake, if this happens, is irreversible and permanent. It will have significant impacts on a traditional use fishery, and will also have a devastating impact on the National Park and Wasagaming as a tourist destination, with Wasagaming businesses and other stakeholders being profoundly affected. Furthermore, communities downstream from Clear Lake, along the Little Saskatchewan River and beyond, will be impacted and may have to contend with costly maintenance of infrastructure.

Keeping zebra mussels out of Clear Lake is our main concern. With the above considerations in mind, the Coalition supports the efforts to have a proactive management plan working with Coalition communities. We urge Parks Canada to continue with sampling, monitoring, decontamination stations, public education activities.

Nevertheless, if zebra mussels have already established themselves in the lake, containing the infestation and preventing their spread throughout the whole lake will require further discussion and consultation with Coalition communities on the best course of action. This summer, if Parks implements a closure of the lake to pleasure watercraft, this decision will undoubtably bring resistance from many Stakeholders. We remind them that Clear Lake is the main draw for visitors to Riding Mountain because it is clean and healthy. A full-blown zebra mussel infestation will impact everyone, not just boaters.

Lastly, we urge Parks Canada, the visitors to Clear Lake, and the general public to be vigilant about deliberate actions of eco-vandalism by disgruntled parties. Small Mouth Bass, a non-native species was introduced in the Clear Lake a few years ago, and its mitigation has been costly. Deliberate infestation of the lake with zebra mussels is a real possibility. Absolutely no one benefits, and future generations are denied what we enjoy today, a clean and healthy Clear Lake. Please join with us in keeping Clear Lake healthy.

Questions or Inquiries

J Plewak, Senior Official

Coalition of First Nations with Interests in RMNP

jplewak@yahoo.ca 204 781-4300

Statement of the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nations regarding Clear Lake in Riding Mountain
National Park – 9 May 2024.

Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation (KOFN), historically known as the Riding Mountain Band, has an Indian Reserve IR61A on Clear Lake that was established as a fishing station in 1896, and KOFN is directly impacted by Parks Canada decisions regarding Clear Lake.

In 1998, an Agreement for a Senior Management Forum between Park Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage and Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation was established by the Secretary of State (Parks Canada).

The Senior Management Forum 1998, also known as the Senior Official Forum (SOF) was established as an outcome from the 1994 Settlement Agreement of KOFN’s land claim for the return of Indian Reserve IR61A. The SOF is a bilateral forum to address Crown-Indigenous reconciliation arising out of Unfinished Treaty Business from Treaty #2 signed by Chief Mekis who represented the Indians of the Riding Mountain and Dauphin Lake bands, on August 21, 1871.

Our ancestors gave us the responsibility to care for the lands and waters of Riding Mountain. Our ancestors made their living here long before Canada existed. In our Treaty, the Crown promised us that our traditional lifestyle on our ancestral lands at Riding Mountain would continue, and a modern lifestyle would be available to those who chose take up that lifestyle. The people of KOFN have always exercised our traditional livelihood along side adopting a modern one. Caring for the lands and waters of Riding Mountain, working together with Parks Canada, with our people being involved in all aspects of Parks operation and management goes towards fulfilling the Crowns promise to our people for a traditional and modern lifestyle. We are working together to make that promise a reality.

Since Clear Lake Indian Reserve IR61A was returned to KOFN in 1991, Parks Canada has recognized that the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation has Sec. 35 rights to a traditional fishery on Clear Lake.

Furthermore, KOFN and Parks Canada has been working cooperatively since 1998 to develop and implement a Clear Lake and Fishery Management Agreement. For KOFN, a traditional fishery on Clear Lake is a way of life, a practice to maintain our culture, ceremonies, ancestral teachings and traditions, and to exercise our responsibilities towards the lake and the beings within. We fish to feed our people, as we have done at Clear Lake for centuries. It is not a sport or recreational activity.

The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nations is also a party to the Riding Mountain Forum (RMF), established in 2006, a multilateral forum between the seven First Nations with Interests in Riding Mountain National Park (the Coalition), and Riding Mountain National Park. The Coalition includes Keeseekoowenin, Waywayseecappo, Gamblers, Rolling River, Sandy Bay, Ebb & Flow, and Tootinaowaziibeeng. In 2006, when KOFN agreed to be a party to the RMF, it did so with the understanding that our interests in Riding Mountain National Park and at Clear Lake were not going to be diminished, distributed or diluted in any way.

Over the last 25 years, the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation has been engaged in consultation with Parks Canada, working jointly with Parks on many projects, including mitigation on aquatic invasive species, including Small Mouth Bass and zebra mussels in Clear Lake.

As a responsible steward, the KOFN recognizes that keeping Clear Lake in a healthy and pristine state means taking proactive measures to ensure the lake remains free of aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

Since zebra mussels eDNA was first detected in Clear Lake in 2022, KOFN has actively engaged with Parks Canada to jointly undertake zebra mussel decontamination efforts, eDNA monitoring and sampling, and public awareness, and will continue to do so. KOFN alongside representatives of Coalition First Nations, have attended meetings with Parks Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Stakeholders sessions and participated in seminars, video conferences, and actively engaged in dialogue and discussion with all parties. We have done so, not as stakeholders, but as right-holders and stewards of Clear Lake. As responsible stewards, we have looked at the science. We have talked with the traditional knowledge-keepers. We have asked many questions of the experts. We have engaged our own aquatic biologist to independently review the data. We have listened to the non-indigenous stakeholders, local businesses, RM’s, etc.

We want our great-great grand children to enjoy a clean and healthy Clear Lake. KOFN supports the efforts of Parks Canada to “Give the Lake a Break” this summer. Measures proposed by Parks Canada in consultation and cooperation with KOFN that keep zebra mussels out of Clear Lake while maintaining a Sec 35 net fishery have our qualified support. We will exercise our ancestral right to fish responsibly which is done when the lake freezes. We will continue to work together with Parks Canada and stakeholders to keep Clear Lake healthy.

Questions or Inquiries, Chief Dwayne Blackbird,

Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation

PO Box 100, Elphinstone, MB R0J 0N0

204 625-2004