Rightful Stewards of the Land
A leader of her Poplar River First Nation in the boreal region of Manitoba, Sophia Rabliauskas has for the past eight years worked with her people to secure interim protection of their two million acres of undisturbed forest land (three times the size of Rhode Island). In 2004, Rabliauskas along with several other community members led Poplar River in the development of a comprehensive land protection and management plan for their territory—a precedent-setting accomplishment among First Nations in the boreal. Rabliauskas’s and Poplar River’s current efforts are focused on securing permanent protection of their land from the Manitoba government. With that victory, they will seek a UNESCO World Heritage listing for a larger region of First Nations boreal forest.
Developing the land management plan was an intensive endeavor by Poplar River, led by Rabliauskas and a few others within the First Nation under the direction of their elders. Their efforts resulted in a full-scale blueprint of how they intend to document, protect and sustainably manage Poplar River’s forests, wildlife and other natural resources. The land use plan outlined the following core components: respecting traditional knowledge; benefiting from environmental analysis; developing economic opportunities, including protection of traditional hunting, trapping and fishing activities; and creating sustainable tourism opportunities.
One year before the plan’s completion, in 2004, Rabliauskas helped secure five more years of “interim protected status” for Poplar River territory, which continued to prohibit any logging, hydro, gas or mining development within the two million acres. The Manitoba government announced its intention to grant permanent protection to Poplar River’s land, yet to date has not granted that protection. As 2007 is an election year in Manitoba, Rabliauskas and Poplar River will increase their efforts to keep the issue in the public eye.
While physically isolated from the resources and conveniences of urban life (the main reliable route in and out of the territory is via air), Poplar River is considered highly successful and thriving among First Nations, especially in terms of its social cohesion and economic health. There is little turnover in its tribal leadership and women play an active role in decision-making and cultural leadership.
The Boreal—Canada’s Essential Forests
Canada’s boreal forest comprises 25 percent of the world's and more than 90 percent of the country's remaining large intact forests, and is home to more than four million people, including many First Nations peoples. Covering nearly 1.4 billion acres and 58 percent of Canada's land mass, the boreal forms a green belt across the center of the country, stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon. Thirty percent of this coniferous old-growth forest is covered by wetlands, an estimated 1.5 million lakes and some of the country's largest river systems. This area is also home to some of the world's largest remaining populations of woodland caribou, wolves and bears, and more than 75 percent of North America's waterfowl.
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