Exploring Indigenous Engagement in Park Management

First part of a two-part blog post written as part of the 2019 Park Leaders Development Program.

The Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership (CPCIL) provides an opportunity to network, build professional relationships, and learn from others’ experiences.  The Spring 2019 leadership program did exactly that: through discussions with other participants, ideas were shared on ways to involve Indigenous communities in park management.

Indigenous Peoples are the original stewards of the land and rely on natural spaces to pursue traditional activities such as trapping, hunting, fishing and medicinal plant collection. Provincial parks can play an important role in conserving the land and water where traditional activities take place.

Many jurisdictions have long time partnerships with Indigenous Peoples working to grow and manage park systems to help ensure sustainable land stewardship.  This relationship is important – to engage with communities, to understand the relationships and aspirations of Indigenous peoples, and to use this knowledge to guide constructive action.  Engagement and involvement can take many forms, including incorporating Indigenous perspectives and teachings into interpretive programming in parks, forming co-management agreements, and working cooperative on park management.

One example of Indigenous engagement in park activities that was shared at the spring 2019 leadership program was an experience in Waterton National Park.  In 2018 an extensive fire, named the Kenow wildfire, burned in the Waterton region following an intense lightning and thunder storm which burned 38,000 hectares including 19,303 hectares in Waterton Lakes National Park.   The fire had a significant impact on infrastructure and local communities.

Although some people had felt the forest was devastated, the landscape evolved with fire. Ecosystems are dynamic, changing and adapting in response to natural forces.  Fires also play a significant role for many Indigenous communities.  In some regions Indigenous Peoples used controlled burns to manage forests and grasslands. The timing and location of the fires were based on the traditional knowledge about their territories. These managed fires were an important component of their stewardship of the land.

The importance of fire and Indigenous culture were demonstrated following the Kenow fire where a local Indigenous community conducted a ceremony following the burn.  The Kenow fire was a natural event, but what about prescribed burns?  Are Indigenous communities involved in this park vegetation management practice?  Maybe local Indigenous communities would want to be a part of that process. The decision making around timing, location, and process could hold significance to some.  Indigenous involvement in the management of burns would also provide opportunities to conduct ceremony, if they wish, prior, during or post a fire event.  Is this type of cooperative engagement being done in any jurisdictions across Canada?  Are agencies involving Indigenous communities in managed burns?

Who is doing what, where, when, and why, and how can this be applied to other jurisdictions?  On my way to search for answers…

Go to Elvira’s next blog post

Improved Accessibility in New Brunswick Provincial Parks

(Photo Courtesy New Brunswick Parks)

In 2005, I started work with NB’s provincial parks while finishing University and accessibility was starting to become part of the core curriculum around that time.  In 2007, I had the honour to attend the Parks System Leadership course (PSL, the precursor to the Canadian Parks Collective) which was held at William Watson Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta.

My experience at the PSL course, but more specifically of seeing William Watson Lodge – a purpose built accessible wilderness lodge – first-hand set me on a course to replicate its core values here in New Brunswick. I told Don Carruthers Den Hoed while I was there I wanted to bring it to my province, and my principle since that time has been to promote free, self-guided accessibility throughout our parks system.

This year I got to realize a big part of my accessibility dreams  with the introduction of improved facilities and new equipment in our provincial parks and a statement from our Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture that “All New Brunswickers deserve access to high-quality physical and recreational activities. I am delighted that our parks offer better access to people with limited mobility and physical disabilities, as well as new equipment, so they can enjoy nature and experience more of what our parks have to offer on the beach, in the water or down the mountain.”

Upgrades to administration offices, including accessible washrooms, campsites and cabins  and the introduction four Hippocampe wheelchairs, three WaterWheels floating beach wheelchairs and one adaptive mountain bike – the Bowhead Reach – are available this year (2019) in NB provincial parks, free of charge.

Bringing the Bowhead Reach bike to NB was icing on the cake though. I had the privilege of meeting its inventor – Christian Bagg – at another CPC led initiative, the 2016 Canadian Parks Summit in Canmore. This incredible piece of equipment and Christian’s story of determination to lead his own adventures inspired me to try and bring him and the bike to NB.

Josh, a Para-Olympian,  you see on the second bike from the left in the photo above had never heard of the bike before, much less had he been able to explore the trails at the park at his doorstep. Before we got underway with the photo shoot he’d volunteered to help us with, we gave him some time to ‘play’ and get used to the bike. I took him out on the trails and inevitably there were a couple of trees across the path. I managed to lift one enough for him to get out under, but couldn’t budge the other.

Josh was immediately trying to figure out how to backup and I could see a bit of disappointment on his face – this was supposed to be an milestone where he’d have freedom of choice  – and then I clued in and said “just go over it”… Josh  -“Really???… Me – “you bet!”. After that it was a full on sprint for me to even consider keeping up and I’m sure his smile was wider than the handlebars for the rest of the day.

Thank you to the CPC and my NB team for affording me the privilege of meeting park leaders from across the country. It’s given me some of the proudest moments of my life and now we’re getting to inspire a new generation of park lovers, one self-guided adventure at a time!

Service-learning during the Spring 2019 Park Leaders Development Program

The wind is whipping the branches of the white pine, there’s a loon calling from somewhere in the half-darkness, and a constant threat of a downpour in Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve.  Our group has just heard from staff of Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about the challenges faced in managing this Conservation Reserve.  We break into small groups to consider what we’ve heard – who’s involved, what’s happening, why, and what matters most.  We’re starting to form some recommendations based on our collective cross-Canada experience in parks and protected areas management.  All before 7:00 a.m.

This is service-learning.  We are 21 participants in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program. We come from 10 agencies and represent nearly all the regions of Canada.  The goal is for our group to make a meaningful contribution towards solving a real problem while having a learning experience.  Field trips are usually fun, but this is better.  This means something.  The Conservation Reserve managers are genuinely interested in our ideas on what ways there are to approach their challenges, or what next steps they can consider trying.  We are equally grateful for the opportunity to apply the techniques we’ve been learning in the classroom to something that hasn’t already been figured out, that doesn’t have an answer yet.

It’s fitting to arrive in Canada’s first Dark Sky Preserve before dawn.  The early morning start and accompanying sunrise ceremony led by an elder from Shawanaga First Nation help us focus.  We haven’t had to make any decisions yet today.  There haven’t been any conference calls, or emails marked as urgent to drain our brain power.  We need only to listen.

Everything we’ve heard from our hosts this morning and that we’ve learned from each other so far this week points to relationships as being the key.  We come back together and share our take on the situation. Every group recommends spending time investing in relationships and suggests opportunities for collaboration with community partners.  Nobody says it will be a fast process, or without conflict.  No doubt the Conservation Reserve managers already know this to be the right thing to do.  Sometimes, just the reminder that across the country we face similar challenges and work towards similar goals is enough to keep us moving forward.

It’s been refreshing to spend some time on a problem that isn’t ours.  That separation made constraints disappear and ideas flow. Equally refreshing was spending some time in a beautiful place. Thank you to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and to Ontario Parks for inviting us. 

Check out the Innovator’s Compass, the tool we used during this service-learning experience to analyze the situation and make recommendations, at https://innovatorscompass.org/.

Ontario Parks shares Jurisdictional Scan on Sign Guidelines among Canadian Parks Council agencies

Amanda Schroeder, Policy Development Intern with Ontario Parks, shared a recently completed summary of a jurisdictional scan on sign guidance within CPC park agencies. The document was completed with support from park staff in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Parks Canada. Other agencies may have additional guidelines but were unable to participate in the scan.

From the introduction:

In the interest of creating formal guidance on park signage, Ontario Parks put forward a request for information to Canadian Parks Council members in the summer of 2018. Park agencies were asked whether they had a manual or similar guidance for symbols and sign specifications. Several responses were received and are outlined in the following document.

Responses vary from agency to agency based on their environment, policy and legislation. Please be advised that not all details are provided in this document. One should contact the respective agency to obtain further information.
Ontario Parks would like to thank the park agencies that provided responses to our inquiry. We hope that this information will prove valuable.

Ontario Parks Jurisdictional Scan on Sign Guidelines

The document includes information on the presence or absence of sign guidance, details of guidelines, and contact information. It would be useful for park infrastructure and maintenance, planning, visitor experience, way finding, and management.

Link to Resource in CPCIL Training and Resource Directory:


Leadership and Parkanomics: The Fall 2018 Park Leaders Development Program

After several weeks of pre-residency work–preparing solo presentations on economic challenges facing park agencies and posting reflections on a leadership article and a CPC financial sustainability video–21 Park Leaders from across Canada gathered in Canmore Alberta for the first residency of the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership.

Participants included managers, superintendents, planners, and programmers from regions across Canada. The majority came from Parks Canada–though several of these federal Park Leaders were meeting for the first time–as well as BC Parks, Alberta Parks, Saskatchewan Parks, Manitoba Parks, Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq), Northwest Territories Environment & Natural Resources, and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Hosted in the Alpine Club of Canada Clubhouse for the week, the group gave presentations, collaborated on capstone team projects, and built networks that will last beyond the program. Workshops throughout the residency included:

  • Dr. Joe Pavelka from Mount Royal University on valuing parks and the business of park visitation.
  • Dr. Connie Van der Byl from the Institute for Environmental Sustainability at Mount Royal University on strategic sustainability and the tensions of park revenue and conservation.
  • Dr. Andrew Bear Robe from Bear Robe Consulting and the Piikani Nation on economic development as an act of reconciliation.
  • Sylvie Plante, PhD (candidate) from Royal Roads University on Social Capital and Collaborative Innovation, and
  • Dr. Don Carruthers Den Hoed from Mount Royal University and the CPCIL project on leadership in parks and protected areas.
  • William Snow from the Stoney Nakoda First Nations on Indigenous ways of knowing and cultural monitoring.

While evenings were free for networking, there were two memorable events, including a fireside chat with CPC Park Leadership alumni Peter Swain, Nadine Spence, and Kathie Adare and an informal conversation with Acting Parks Canada General Director, Michael Nadler.

In addition, the group participated in two field experiences, the first focused on innovative approaches to economic sustainability, and the second built around the idea of contributing to the park community, as the CPCIL Park Leaders is tended to local challenges and provided feedback for park managers and programmers. The former included a trip to the Calgary Zoo to explore their visionary approach to becoming Canada’s leading wildlife conservation agency and a stop at Glenbow Ranch to explore private land conservation and other effective conservation mechanisms with Guy Greenaway from the Miistakis Institute. The latter included a site tour of the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, a visit to the Peter Lougheed Discovery Centre in Kananaskis Country, and a stop at the Morley Artisans Flea Market. In all cases, the hosts appreciated the conversations and ideas generated by the Park Leadership Development Development Program participants.

Having returned home from the Rocky Mountains and to the reality of daily work, all the participants are focused on their solo tasks–working with the program facilitator to create outreach projects to bring leadership learning back to their home agencies–and their capstone team projects. These projects reflect collaborative approaches to looking at parks in new ways and aim to do things such as

  • compile success stories of social capital and community relationships
  • build an initial database of Indigenous partnerships with park agencies
  • create a tool for valuing park agencies as partners–and for finding the right partners, and
  • reviewing a Visitor Use Management Framework BC Parks is developing and piloting its application to other jurisdictions.

Capstone projects are expected to be complete by mid April and will be posted on the park leaders development program page.