SASKATOON -- The chief of the Cumberland House Cree Nation and band council signed a declaration to protect the Saskatchewan River Delta and to assert their rights to manage the environment and industrial development that affects the delta.

They say the role was taken away from them by colonization and Treaty 5.

“Let it be known to everyone, we have title to our homelands that is everlasting,” Chief Rene Chaboyer said at the declaration signing ceremony in Prince Albert at the Cumberland Crossing Hotel.

The Saskatchewan River Delta is Crown land. The province is responsible for exploration and industry permits in the area. Cumberland House Cree Nation’s parcel of reserve land is south of the Cumberland House community and about 2,145 hectares in size.

“They need to come and take us seriously and have us involved. We’re not asking for their permission, we are sending a message that they must come and consult with us and form meaningful business partnerships,” Chaboyer said.

DELTA PART OF TRADITIONAL TERRITORY

The announcement was made independent of the province and no representatives from the provincial or federal government attended.

The band is asking for equity from natural resources in the area and shared wealth as a model for business development for its 800 members.

Chaboyer said the Saskatchewan River Delta, or Kitaskinaw, is part of his band's traditional territory and for thousands of years his people were stewards of the land and hunted, fished and trapped in the area.

The band voiced concerns about SaskPower’s E.B. Campbell Dam about 130 km from Cumberland House. Chaboyer says he’d like to see the dam removed or its technology improved. He also wants the band to have a stake in SaskPower projects.

“Any dam that stops water or sediment chokes the natural flow so that the species in our delta are dying,” said Chaboyer.

The CEO of Cumberland Wood Products (CWP), Aaron Kuchirka, said they’re asking the province to provide wood harvesting allocations north of the Saskatchewan River Delta to Cumberland Wood Products.

He said CWP will build meaningful economic partnership that will benefit the people of Cumberland House Cree Nation.

AREA A VAST CARBON SINK

The executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Gord Vaadeland, says the declaration will help protect the land, water and traditional livelihoods within the delta.

Vaadland says proposed coal mines in Alberta and irrigation expansions in Saskatchewan and Alberta are some of the projects that may alter the water flowing into the delta.

“The fear is that there may not be enough water to go around, especially when you factor in climate change, so it’s really important to look at these things as a group, not as all individual projects,” said Vaadeland.

CPAWS Saskatchewan is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to preservation of healthy forest and grassland ecosystems in Saskatchewan.

It says the delta’s ecosystem stores billions of tonnes of carbon in a vast peatland and boreal forest ecosystem and acts as a natural storehouse for carbon.

The delta is a network of waterways, wetlands and low lying forest. It covers an area of 10,000 square kilometres and is an important breeding ground for migratory birds.