“Since time immemorial” Swan River First Nation (SRFN) has used the land near Lesser Slave Lake, says Dustin Twin.
Twin was on SRFN council for six years. Before that he was involved in consultation for SRFN. He was part of a protest which led to the formation of the Swan River First Nation Traditional Use Preserve.
The location of the preserve is a compromise, says Twin.
In the 1990s, says Twin, Swan River members started having concerns about not enough undisturbed land to support members who wanted to practice traditional land-use.
Traditional land-uses that members want to do include hunting, foraging for food and medicine, trapping, and fishing.
At the time, the members used House Mountain just south of Kinuso the most. From 2008 to 2010, the First Nation did a study to find the “most intact areas,” adds Twin. This identified a portion of the other side of Hwy. 33 next to Grizzly Ridge Wildland Provincial Park. The First Nation decided to claim this as a Traditional Land-Use Preserve. They sent letters to the provincial government announcing their intention.
A couple of years later, a local mill decided to log part of that area. At the same time, Driftpile Cree Nation had land it didn’t want logged.
Both Driftpile and Swan River decided to hold culture camps on the area they didn’t want logged.
“We did the same thing at the same time,” says Twin.
The culture camps protest started in-depth conversations with West Fraser, which ended in the understanding that the area was “a complete no go,” says Twin. “It’s progressed quite a ways.”
The stance of SRFN is that “the preserve is the preserve – not even salvage or maintenance,” says Twin.
The preserve falls within the portfolio of Todd Bailey, SRFN director of forestry consultation.
In May, the consultation department led a three-day workshop with community members on their meaningful exercise of rights outlined in Treaty 8.
One of the things which came out of the workshop was “the importance of the preserve,” says Bailey. Swan River is “planning for seven generations,” and “intact areas is an important part of that.”
Swan River members identified hunting, medicinal plant foraging, and peaceful enjoyment as some of the uses for the land, says Bailey.
Peaceful enjoyment is a legal term, adds Twin. “For us coming out here, there’s a sovereignty aspect to it.”
Swan River holds cultural hunting camps on the preserve, but wants to do more. It is looking into building a trail system based on the medicine wheel.
“We want to be able to get around without too much impact,” says Twin.
Swan River also bought a trapline which is partially on the preserve.
Swan River provides land-based learning for both Swan River School and Kinuso School. Swan River elders teach young people traditional skills and about culture.
In the future, Swan River would like to do some of this on the preserve.
Treaty 8 was signed on June 21, 1899. It includes northern Alberta, parts of northern B.C. and Saskatchewan, and a portion of the Northwest Territories.
The Treaty 8 Tribal Association says, “Treaty rights include rights to areas used for hunting, fishing, cultural activities and burial grounds within all of Treaty 8. Wherever a Treaty 8 member is in Treaty 8 territory, he or she has rights within the whole territory, not just his or her own traditional land.”
Many Swan River members, including young people, are interested in (or do) traditional harvesting in some way, says Twin.
by Pearl Lorentzen