The Peguis Consultation and Special Projects Inc. (PCSP) is a unique department of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba that focuses on Section 35 consultations and special projects.
Like many First Nations communities in Canada, Peguis First Nation was never consulted on issues concerning their traditional lands by companies extracting their natural resources. It wasn’t until 2012-2013 when this department was created to ensure adequate engagement processes were established, including environmental hearings at the provincial and federal levels.
The office now has over 20 staff members and nine departments: Section 35 Consultation, Engagement and Accommodations, Environmental Department, Traditional Environmental Monitoring, Land-Based Education, Forestry, Archeological and Heritage Resources Department, Mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS), Community Comprehensive Planning (CCP) and Community Development.
“A lot of First Nations hire consulting firms to come in and do what we call Section 35 engagement out of the Canadian Charter of Rights,” says PCSP Director Mike Sutherland. “Section 35 states that when an industry comes into Peguis First Nations’ traditional territory, they have to consult and engage so they are aware of the potential impacts of the projects they want to carry out. But that just doesn’t pertain to industries, like government legislation and policy, it also impacts our treaty and Indigenous rights.”
“That’s why we are here. We make sure that our rights are not impacted,” explains Sutherland. “And if they are, we have to determine what mitigation, or accommodation measures have to be put in place. This is so that people are accountable for the impacts on the land—and when you impact the land, it’s not just the land that’s impacted.”
It is the animals, the water, the forests, and the users of the land—the Indigenous Peoples. “Because we’re all a part of the environment. Every one of us in our communities and the surrounding areas beyond the borders of our First Nation reserves—this is what we call our traditional territory,” explains Sutherland. “So we work to protect that.”
In 2017, Peguis First Nation started doing its consulting to build capacity within the community and to ensure the protection of heritage resources. They are now incorporated federally and provincially, and hope to work with other First Nations to help build capacity.
Sutherland continues to explain, “At the federal level, there’s no Federal Heritage Act. So often industry projects that are overseen by federal regulatory bodies like the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, the Canada Energy Regulator, our Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Nuclear Labs, for example, or whoever it may be—there are over 30 of them—will just go through, bulldoze and drill into Mother Earth and excavate without any consideration of the heritage or heritage resources that are in the ground.”
According to Sutherland, two years ago Procurement Canada was working on a site where they uncovered an ancestor, and then a few weeks later, they uncovered a second one, six feet away from the first one. “We found out that Procurement Canada didn’t even consult with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada who was the regulatory body overseeing the project, nor did they consult with First Nations.” Part of the problem, according to industry, is that Indigenous engagement has been exhausted. So rather than file an injunction, Sutherland and his team were able to get involved and be on-site with their archaeologists and monitors, ensuring all heritage resources were properly handled. “There were over 20,000 artifacts that were brought up from that project and a couple of ancestors,” says Sutherland.
One of the things that has been a challenge for PCSP is the province of Manitoba’s Heritage Resource Act, which is very settler-driven. “There’s little about Indigenous villages, or traditional territories, or anything like that. And that’s where it gets even more frustrating and tough because of the lack of respect and recognition of the Indigenous history here in Manitoba,” explains Sutherland.
Sutherland references the significance of The Forks, which is a very popular tourist destination right in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. History will show The Forks as the center of trade for thousands of years, and Sutherland points out that the Longport Bridge was an old buffalo crossing. “You’ll find buffalo bones, arrowheads, scrapers, ice scrapers and stuff like that there because, as Indigenous Peoples, if we harvested buffalo there, we didn’t haul them back to our villages, we processed them right there. Smoked the meat, tanned the hides—we did everything right there, and then we took things back.”
To ensure adequate engagement processes concerning special projects, PCSP trains individuals in Manitoba and in Western Canada to become environmental monitors. “People can go to school to become an astronomer, a geologist or a fishery biologist, or a forestry biologist, but we carry a lot of this traditional knowledge,” says Sutherland. “Our people come from the land—hunters, trappers, fishermen—or their parents have taught them about the land. As monitors, we are archaeologists. We are astronomers. We are fishery biologists and forestry biologists. And we are botanists because we know plants and medicines. A lot of what can be learned in school, we have learned growing up on the land, passed down from our grandfathers and great grandfathers.”
Jeff Sutherland is an Indigenous Monitor with PCSP and adds, “Traditional environmental monitoring is so essential as we move forward in industry to protect our heritage resources, our natural resources and our water resources because that’s the job that our monitors do. We need to be the first ones out there before anything is disturbed by machines.”
The people trained by PCSP become environmental police of sorts for First Nations, reporting back to leadership and constituents regarding ongoing projects. “We make sure that government and industry do their due diligence and follow the regulatory process that’ is required by the regulatory bodies that may oversee those projects,” says Sutherland.
The training offered by PCSP. is making a difference, but one of their greatest concerns is making sure that any artifacts or ancestors that are found on special projects receive the ceremonies they are entitled to, are properly handled, are preserved or buried and returned to their rightful communities. “We believe artifacts don’t belong to the government, they don’t belong to industry, they don’t belong in museums, they belong with the First Nations communities,” says Sutherland.
When we do workshops, we always take people to Bannock Point to show them a piece of history,” says Sutherland. “Bannock Point is all aquatic animals, showing snakes, turtles and fish in the rock formations. That means they represented those clans that were aquatic, turtle, sturgeon, or fish clans. That’s where those clans would go to do their ceremonies.”
“Other petroforms would be fur-bearing animals or hoofed animals. Others may be birds with eagles and thunderbirds. Each site was significant to the clan system that they represented, and there are several out there,” Sutherland explains. “It’s amazing when you go and learn the teachings of those petroforms because it’s all part of the history of our people. There are many petroforms like that throughout North America, and many of them are connected.”
Garth Sutton is an archaeologist working with PCSP. He is very passionate about combining science and Indigenous knowledge as a means of learning how Indigenous Peoples occupied, adapted and used the land. One of his latest projects involves a site in the White Shell, in the southeastern portion of Manitoba, where Manitoba Hydro is proposing to build a line from Pointe du Bois to the Lee River substation, and then from the Lee River substation, down across the Winnipeg River.
“It’s boreal forest and where it meets the northeastern plains is called an edge zone, with the major river systems flowing through it and connecting everything,” says Sutton. “It’s a very important area, not just for archaeology, but for spirituality. There are a lot of ceremonial sites in the area and a lot of petroforms. Along the rivers, there are also many pictographs—paintings that were painted on rock faces close to waterways. That’s where the three realms of existence meet—the rock, the air, and the water. Those tell a story.”
“When you come across a significant site, you have to determine what comes next,” he says. “Can Hydro redirect the line around it or take mitigation action, and that’s by block excavation to recover as much data as possible? But archaeology is not about collecting artifacts. It’s about collecting the data associated with those artifacts,” explains Sutton. “It’s important to take detailed notes and photos to get as much pertinent information as possible so you have something to interpret later on.”
According to the field team, there are five petroglyphs in the White Shell. One in the middle and four on the outside about 15-20 kilometres apart. But at each petroglyph, there’s a circle with the arrow protruding to the south, to the north, to the east, and to the west. And every one of those arrows connects to the next petroform, indicating the direction they’re facing. If there’s a petroform south of it and there’s a circle there, that north one will connect to the south arrow from the valid point one.
“It’s amazing how our people used astronomy to connect petroforms, using the stars to guide from one petroform to the next. This is why we do the work we do,” says Sutherland. “To preserve our history and reconstruct our stories.”
Kinnan Stevenson-French is another member of the field team and the Environmental Projects Coordinator with PCSP. He explains why protecting heritage resources is so important to First Nations—to his community. “The government, or other proponents, involved in these projects seem to have a hard time understanding that all of this history and heritage that we’re uncovering is from a time that was lost to a lot of Indigenous people.”
“Archaeology is about understanding why everything is there,” says Stevenson-French.“This is our knowledge that we’re rediscovering, and so we want to be able to have first access to it, to be able to interpret it and determine why it was placed there. Was this placed here for a reason? Was it meant to be found, or is there a separate purpose as to why it was placed there and maybe we should put it back?”
It wasn’t so long ago that a lot of Indigenous teachings, understandings and history were not so much lost, but set aside so that Indigenous Peoples were not able to translate it. “By going to these sites and doing the assessments ourselves we are learning a new perspective, explains Stevenson-French. “In a time of reconciliation, we want to be able to understand how the land was used previously, how it has changed and how people have adapted over time to adjust to those changes. That’s something that a lot of the world could use and learn from right now.”
It’s interesting to look at life from this point of view, and that’s why PCSP is working hard to change policy and develop their own policies around heritage that happen within traditional territory, while also protecting these areas from being raided by the general public. It’s a real balancing act and PCSP welcomes the responsibility that comes with this type of work. PCSP looks forward to continuing to build capacity and expand their training opportunities to more and more First Nations across Canada.
This story is sponsored by.Peguis Consultation and Special Projects Inc.
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