Incorporating Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge in the Management of the Bloodvein River
The Ontario portion of the Bloodvein River flows through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and in 1998, it was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. Four years later, with the commemorative plaque ready to be installed, Woodland Caribou Park’s Superintendent Doug Gilmore began an important dialogue to ensure that the plaque text reflected the local First Nation’s perspective of the river and its cultural and historical importance. The consultation process lasted from 2002 until the plaque unveiling ceremony in 2008 and Superintendent Gilmore describes it as a journey of listening, learning, and connecting to the river, the land, and First Nations culture.
Building Connections and Fostering Relationships
Ontario Parks staff approached the local First Nations, whose traditional homeland touches the river in both Ontario and Manitoba, and asked them to help write the text for the plaque. A working group with members from the Lac Seul and Little Grand Rapids First Nations was created and together they crafted a unique trilingual plaque. Featuring Ojibwe syllabics and speaking of the river’s long history of fur trading, the plaque’s message concludes with: “Most importantly, the Bloodvein River area was home to many Anishinaabek families, who had a deep relationship with the land. Their descendants are working to rebuild and nurture this relationship to this day.”
Sharing Traditional Knowledge Leads to Improved River Management
According to Superintendent Doug Gilmore, the greatest success of this shared project has been the new sense of trust developed through dialogue between Ontario Parks and the First Nations communities. Ontario Parks staff toured the river with First Nations members who shared their knowledge of flora and fauna and explained traditional aboriginal ways – information that has improved park management practices.
During one of these journeys, on a trip into Knox Lake, an elder pointed out a beautiful rock along the shore. Sheltered from the winds and highly visible, it made a perfect location for the plaque. Today, two plaques sit on the shores of the Bloodvein River – one on that sheltered rock in Knox Lake and the other at the Red Lake Heritage Centre.
Creating a Sense of Community
Sharing in the writing and installation of those important plaques gave many First Nations families on the Bloodvein River a pride of place, and a solid sense of ownership in the heritage river designation. The Bloodvein is their home and the very core of who they are.
The shared plaque-writing project has given birth to a community of Parks staff and elders committed to continuing their dialogue. Together they will choose land management practices that respect both scientific and First Nations knowledge and perspectives.
The Bloodvein River flows 306 km from Ontario to Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg. The Manitoba portion of the river was designated to the CHRS in 1987 with the Ontario portion following in 1998. The designation is based on the river’s outstanding natural values, along with its rich First Nations history.