albany-river-Mushkegowuk-Council

The plan to protect an area five times the size of Nova Scotia

In this week’s newsletter, reporter Emma McIntosh talks about a trip to far northern Ontario and big plans for Indigenous-led conservation. Plus, welcoming a new B.C. reporter and celebrating award nominations!
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Left: Aerial view of the Albany River with ice on it, flowing through boreal forest. Right: Emma McIntosh, in a green parka and Narwhal toque, on the Way to Fort Albany on the James Bay Ice Road


As the plane dipped out of the clouds, my heart caught in my throat. Not just from the turbulent winter winds tossing my ride around mid-air, but also from the sheer awe of the expansive peatlands, boreal forest and rivers beneath me. 

In February, I travelled over the James Bay Lowlands, a massive carbon sink where some of Ontario’s last undammed rivers flow — home to Omushkego people, who call it the Breathing Lands, the lungs of the world.

Most of the stories I’ve written about this region have centred on one issue: the prospect of mining in a zone called the Ring of Fire. But photographer Carrie Davis and I were en route to the remote northern community of Kashechewan, just inland from Weenebeg (or James Bay), to hear about a vision for the region’s economic and environmental future centred on Indigenous-led conservation.

Right now, Mushkegowuk Council — representing its seven member Omushkego First Nations and two others that have signed on for this project — is working to advance a massive Indigenous-led conservation project here. Eventually, the plan is to protect a large swath of the lowlands and also portions of Weenebeg and Washaybeyoh (or Hudson Bay) amounting to an area five times the size of Nova Scotia.

 
Lawrence Martin,  the head of Mushkegowuk Council’s lands and resources department, holds up a banner with another man
Mushkegowuk conservation: boreal forest and a stream with a layer of snow on the ground
Can these First Nations protect the world’s Breathing Lands?

Omushkego leaders have wanted something like this for decades. The federal government is now on board, offering funding and legal backing to make it happen. But there’s still so much to figure out. The council also has to convince people and leaders who worry conservation efforts could harm Indigenous Rights, that the project may be too big — and who also lack trust in the federal government after many years of broken promises. 

Those tensions were on display during my time in Kashechewan, where federal and Omushkego leaders came together to celebrate the advancement of the marine portion of the project.

The day after the celebration, Jay Monture from Mushkegowuk Council took Carrie and me out for a spin around the ice road that crosses the Albany River, to a spot where we could get a peek at Weenebeg in the distance. On our journey, we saw two owls perched on top of pines, swaying with the winter wind — a tiny glimpse of the rich biodiversity that makes this place so special.

What we saw in Kashechewan was people coming together, all agreeing these lands are important and must be protected, even if they have different ideas of how best to make that happen. I’m grateful to Mushkegowuk Council and Kashechewan for hosting us so we could tell a small part of that story.

Take care and protect your peatlands,

Emma McIntosh
Ontario reporter 
Headshot of Emma McIntosh

P.S. The first episode of Paydirt — a podcast miniseries on Ontario’s Greenbelt scandal that I put together with The Big Story — is officially out! Tune in on the podcast app of your choice or listen on The Narwhal’s website. And stay tuned for the next episode, out Monday morning.
 
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About 20 Narwhal staffers stand in a long line, posing for a group selfie. They are on a green field with trees and blue sky behind.

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A haul of award nominations


Whew, what a haul! We’re chuffed to share The Narwhal picked up 12 nominations (!) from the Digital Publishing Awards, a recognition of our critical storytelling in Canada’s online media ecosystem.

From our series on Indigenous food sovereignty to a feature on the risks facing endangered caribou and the behind-the-scenes stories we share in this very newsletter, we’re thrilled to see all corners of our pod honoured for their efforts.

There’s more! This week we also picked up a nomination for the CJF-Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism for our Greenbelt reporting with the Toronto Star. It’s an award given out to news organizations whose reporting has a profound positive impact on the communities they serve — our north star for everything we do here at The Narwhal.

All of this award-worthy journalism is only possible because 6,200 readers just like you donate what they can to support investigative, independent reporting. Will you help us tell more stories on the issues shaping our planet’s future?

🤍 Become a member
Shannon Waters, The Narwhal's B.C. politics and environment reporter, sits on a bench in Victoria, B.C.

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Say hello to our new B.C. reporter!


When Shannon Waters first joined the press gallery at the B.C. legislature, the decision on whether or not to continue the Site C dam project was looming large. Shannon was there as a reporter for BC Today, a daily political newsletter, and she remembers being blown away by long-time Narwhal reporter Sarah Cox’s work.

“Her ability to look at these huge complex reports, which, at the time, I mostly just felt like I was drowning in, and cut through that to tell stories about what was really going on was impressive,” Shannon says. “That was my initial intro and I have been following The Narwhal ever since!” 

Fast forward more than six years later, Shannon joins The Narwhal as our first-ever B.C. politics and environment reporter — in a provincial election year, no less! And get this, Sarah will be her editor in the new gig. (Sarah is taking on my role as bureau lead as I head off on maternity leave.)

“After years of admiring their work, I’m excited to work with Sarah and the whole Narwhal team,” Shannon says.

I sat down with Shannon to get to know her better — and hear her thoughts on what’s shaping up to be a “very interesting and probably quite dramatic campaign” in the 2024 B.C. election.

— Lindsay Sample


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This week in The Narwhal

Don Guilford walks on a gravel road through his farm. On either side of the road are large wetlands filled with cattails and other plant life, with small patches of trees in the distance
Agriculture has historically ravaged wetlands. These farmers are trying to change that
By Julia-Simone Rutgers
Wetlands are vanishing worldwide, often to make way for agriculture. In Manitoba, some farmers are on the frontlines of conserving them, while still making a profit.

READ MORE
An aerial view of Kitasoo Xai'xais territory on the central coast of B.C., with vibrant green sea water, vibrant due to herring spawn. A small island and tree-lined coast are lightly dusted with snow, extending into the distance. Thin, low clouds hang over the trees and the sky is bright blue between the clouds.
It’s the world’s first Indigenous-led ‘blue park.’ And Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation pulled it off without waiting on Canada
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
READ MORE
The main office building of Industrial Plastics Canada on Wallace Road in North Bay, Ontario
‘Hopefully, the story dies’: emails show North Bay officials reacting to reporting on plastics factory’s use of PFAS
By Leah Borts-Kuperman
READ MORE

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What we’re reading


With World Press Freedom Day approaching on May 3, we’re keeping our eyes on a few concerning developments for journalists in Canada.

A few weeks ago, reporter Savanna Craig was arrested by Montreal police while covering a protest against the war in Gaza. Ricochet and The Rover unpack the details as police pursue criminal charges against Craig.

In Vancouver, police used an exclusion zone to block journalists from reporting on the teardown of a tent city, Dustin Godfrey reports for The Maple.
 
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