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Burleigh Falls Dam during the Nishnawbe barricade. Photo courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt/The Peterborough Examiner

Kawartha Nishnawbe Demand Consultation for Parks Canada Development

Written by
Irene Suvillaga
February 8, 2021
Kawartha Nishnawbe Demand Consultation for Parks Canada Development
Burleigh Falls Dam during the Nishnawbe barricade. Photo courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt/The Peterborough Examiner

On the night of Tuesday January 13 members of Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nation erected a blockade in response to a Parks Canada Dam Replacement project in Burleigh Falls, Ontario. The construction started on Monday January 12 and is scheduled for completion by 2024. Although the Trent-Severn Waterway had originally planned a rehabilitation of the dam, its declining condition has been deemed a cause of concern for both public safety, the preservation of property and species, including the walleye fishery as David Britton, Director of Ontario Waterways, told the York Region newspaper. Britton states that, “concrete strength inspections have shown deterioration beyond what is deemed acceptable. These factors indicate that the dam is at or nearing the end of its useful life, and requires a major intervention. Parks Canada is proceeding with a full replacement of the dam, following the current phase of construction that will first stabilize the existing dam.”

The current project seeks to demolish and reconstruct the dam, and went forth without members of the Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nations’ knowledge or consent. Nodin Webb, leader and spokesperson of the Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nation stated to CBC that his community is not necessarily against the construction of the Burleigh Falls Dam, but Parks Canada should have involved them in the decision-making process. As the project moves forward, the Nishnawbe community has taken legal measures to address the matter and appointed Christopher Reid as their lawyer.  Christopher Reid expressed to Global News that “through our legal counsel we have written to Parks Canada to demand consultation on this project, but they have refused. This means that Park Canada is acting illegally.”  

The initial construction of the dam in 1912 led to the involuntary displacement of the Nishnawbe First Nation from their home on Island 31 and the forced relocation to Burleigh Falls. To this day, Burleigh Falls continues to be the home of the Kawartha Nishnawbe, a community whose grand-parents and great grandparents were the original inhabitants of the area. 

The spring pickerel harvest at Burleigh Falls is a major event for the people of Kawartha Nishnawbe. And Parks Canada acknowledges that the fishery will be impacted by the dam renovation project. Under the treaty rights, the Kawartha Nishnawbe has the right to harvest fish, wildlife and plants throughout their traditional territory, including Burleigh Falls. Despite this, “Canada has ignored these rulings and continued to act as if Kawartha Nishnawbe does not exist,” said Reid. Canada’s inability to consult the community appropriately ultimately results in yet another case of exclusion and oppression for the Nishnawbe community. 

"Burleigh Falls - panorama" by Яick Harris is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On Wednesday January 14, Parks Canada issued a statement assuring that Parks Canada and the Federal Government is willing to meet with the Kawartha Nishnawbe and are committed to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples based on a relationship that considers the recognition of rights, respect, collaboration and partnership. David Britton wrote that “Parks Canada has offered to meet with the Kawartha Nishnawbe on the Burleigh Falls Dam Replacement project both in 2016 and more recently to understand their concerns regarding the potential impacts of the project. Parks Canada remains available to do so and hopes to connect in a meaningful way through this process.”

However, when asked about this, Christopher Reid noted that “A single meeting is certainly not ‘consultation’” Reid also mentioned that consultations offered by David Britton and Parks Canada to the Nishnawbe First Nations have been divergent to those offered to Curve Lake First Nations. Canada has engaged in numerous meetings and exchanges over several months with Curve Lake First Nations as some of their members fish around the area of Burleigh Falls. They have also provided funding to allow Curve Lake First Nations to fully participate in consultations, have them entirely review the project and have agreed to have persons appointed by them to monitor the project and ensure compliance with their eco-commitments.

“So far, all the Kawartha Nishnawbe has been offered is a single meeting and no funding” Reid wrote in an email. 

He explained that the law is pretty clear as “the Crown must engage in real consultations with First Nation communities with the goal of addressing impacts on their proven and asserted rights, and making changes in their plans where necessary to accommodate their concerns.” Without funding to review the project with the assistance of experts, it is impossible for the Kawartha Nishnawbe to assess how the ongoing project will affect their rights. However, the dam construction will almost certainly affect the fishery and it is also likely to disturb and damage the archeological heritage of the area, Reid expressed. 

According to the Kawartha Nishnawbe, the consultation documents were reviewed this past Tuesday February 2. Although Parks Canada has not discussed any details on the new consultation terms, the Kawartha Nishnawbe has ended their 19-day blockade as the community has expressed satisfaction with the new terms being offered. Nodin Webb disclosed that land defenders and council members are included in this consultation and that Parks Canada has offered funding to hire an expert for their own consultation team.

“We are happy with Parks Canada’s response to include us on all major consultations from this point forward. That we look forward to Parks Canada reconciliation with Kawartha Nishnawbe and healing our relationship,”  Nodin Webb expressed to the Peterborough Examiner. 

Although the blockade has ended, the barricade remains standing, preventing any access to the dam construction site until the consultation process is complete and its terms deemed adequate.

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