New agreement signed to respect Indigenous rights in Castle parks

By Aaron Mahoney (@Mahones93 on Twitter)
November 4, 2018 - 8:45am

ALBERTA – The Government of Alberta signed a historic agreement on Friday, Nov. 2, with the Piikani Nation to ensure that treaty rights, traditional practices and Indigenous knowledge are better protected and fostered in the Castle region.

To support Indigenous knowledge and culture in the Castle provincial parks, Alberta Parks and the Piikani Nation have signed Cooperative Management Terms of Reference.

A release states this is a historical first, as the province places greater emphasis on traditional activities and treaty rights in parks planning.

Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips says they heard from First Nations that they often did not feel comfortable in the province’s parks.

“This is a clear message that we need to do better, and do more, to foster a new and better relationship. This agreement marks a tremendous opportunity for government, Indigenous peoples, local communities and visitors to celebrate and appreciate First Nations’ rich culture in Alberta’s parks,” Phillips said.

The Castle Management Plan was the first time Alberta Parks included a primary objective respecting Indigenous rights and a chapter devoted to First Nations.

The terms of reference create a management board that will increase cultural practices on the landscape and protect access to areas of cultural significance.

“This agreement allows Piikani to work collectively with the Government of Alberta in managing this area,” Piikani Nation Chief Stanley Grier stated. “It allows our people to be more interactive and to express our history and our usage of the Castle region while also ensuring our Elders and our current generation can continue to exercise cultural practices and treaty rights important to who we are as a people. It’s a historic day.”

The Alberta Parks and Piikani Nation Management Board will provide input on

-    Piikani hunting and harvesting practices such as berry-picking, personal wood-harvesting, tipi poles and willows.

-    Cultural practices such as sweat lodges or other ceremonies that require privacy or seclusion.

-    Access management and protection of specific cultural areas of importance.

-    Interpretation and education of Piikani history and culture, including appropriate use of Blackfoot language in Alberta Parks signage and naming.

-    Economic development opportunities such as retail, guiding and interpretation services.

-    Training of Alberta Parks staff to ensure awareness of Indigenous rights, culture and practices.

The board will be co-chaired by two representatives, one appointed by Alberta Parks and one appointed by Piikani Chief and council and up to six other members will be named to the board, including at least one Elder.

The board will meet four times per year.

Richard Feehan, Minister of Indigenous Relations, explained that this agreement truly speaks to the growing relationship between the government and the Blackfoot people.

“It will enrich and strengthen the planning, management and operation of the Castle parks while continuing our commitment to reconciliation and our respect for Indigenous heritage and traditional knowledge.”

The 103,000-hectare Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park were established in January 2017. More than $20 million over four years has been designated in general parks planning for access routes, inclusion projects, camping, signage, picnic areas and hiking trails in the Castle parks.

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