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Caldwell First Nation, Parks Canada to explore joint governance of Ojibway National Park

Chief Mary Duckworth of the Caldwell First Nation and Maria Papoulias, project manager for the Windsor National Urban Park Initiative with Parks Canada, sign a memorandum of understanding for Caldwell and Parks Canada to explore shared governance of the park, on March 25, 2024.  (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
Chief Mary Duckworth of the Caldwell First Nation and Maria Papoulias, project manager for the Windsor National Urban Park Initiative with Parks Canada, sign a memorandum of understanding for Caldwell and Parks Canada to explore shared governance of the park, on March 25, 2024. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

The chief of Caldwell First Nation says she's confident that shared governance of the proposed Ojibway National Urban Park will come to be, after Caldwell signed an agreement with Parks Canada on Monday to explore the possibility.

With a signed memorandum of understanding coming after more than a year and a half of discussion between the two, the MOU represents "a significant achievement" for Caldwell.

"As First Nations in Southwestern Ontario we were never given the opportunity to contribute our ways of knowing, being and doing," said Chief Mary Duckworth of Caldwell First Nation.

"We will honour and protect all our relations now. We look forward to collaboration with Parks Canada on creating a First Nations approach to shared governance of the proposed Ojibway National Urban Park."

The MOU was signed at Point Pelee Monday afternoon, committing both groups to exploring possibilities for co-operation that include First Nations-led conservation, building commitments to ensure shared park management and operations, visitor experience and wildfire management, according to a press release.

Chief Mary Duckworth of the Caldwell First Nation spoke about the memorandum of understanding Caldwell signed with Parks Canada on Monday, March 25, 2024 exploring the possibility of shared governance of the proposed Ojibway National Urban Park.
Chief Mary Duckworth of the Caldwell First Nation spoke about the memorandum of understanding Caldwell signed with Parks Canada on Monday, March 25, 2024 exploring the possibility of shared governance of the proposed Ojibway National Urban Park.

Chief Mary Duckworth of the Caldwell First Nation spoke about the memorandum of understanding Caldwell signed with Parks Canada on Monday, March 25, 2024 exploring the possibility of shared governance of the proposed Ojibway National Urban Park. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Maria Papoulias is the project manager for the Ojibway National Urban Park and says the MOU represents "coming to the table together" with Caldwell.

"We've agreed that we're both interested in exploring different options for the proposed urban  park in Windsor alongside other First Nations that may become involved and our partners in the Windsor area," Papoulias said. "There is still a lot of work to do... The park has not been designated yet."

Duckworth said signing the agreement at Point Pelee underscores the relationship that already exists between Caldwell and Parks Canada.

"Nothing could have happened until we had that relationship ... and it has to be built on trust and understanding. It has to be built on an understanding that we're going to make mistakes with each other, but we have to learn how to trust each other. And I think [that's] what we've done, Parks Canada and Caldwell First Nation," said Chief Mary Duckworth on Monday.

"Maria has an obligation to Point Pelee, Parks Canada ... and I have an obligation to over 400 citizens that look to me for leadership, look to me for direction."

The proposed national urban park is currently in stage three, the planning stage, of the four-stage process

"This is where it gets into the nitty gritty. We've got to work through a lot of details and co-governance is a major portion of that but also fundamentals like the clearly defined boundary of the park, the agreements with the municipality, the province that how the existing lands will be managed as well," said Caroline MacIntosh, the executive director for protected areas establishment at Parks Canada.

"There's a lot of work to do and this is the busy part where you have to go into a lot of really important details."

Duckworth says she's confident shared governance will come to fruition now that the memorandum of understanding has been signed.

"We spent two years talking about what it could look like and what needs to happen on both sides," she said. "So I'm not even worried."