Since 2013, Mississagi Provincial Park has been deemed “non-operational.” When budget cuts were announced the previous year, it was decided that Mississagi, along with nine other parks, would go from being maintained by the provincial government to, well, not.
The 49-square-kilometre park, which had been found to have a “low visitation rate,” did not receive maintenance of the grounds or facilities, though people were still allowed to visit. The nearby municipality of Elliot Lake tried to keep the park running itself, but it had a limited budget, and the park ended up losing money each year.
But now, the municipality has now partnered with three local First Nations — the Sagamok, Serpent River, and Mississauga, all of whom use Mississagi Park for traditional ceremonies and education — to create a joint commission that will operate the park, hopefully bringing it back in the black. This group, known as the Mississagi Provincial Park Commission, will take over starting in 2019.
Dan Marchisella, mayor of Elliot Lake, says this partnership shows how communities can work together to without the involvement of provincial and federal governments.
“They [governments] have to allow for municipalities to be able to come to the table and speak freely with their neighbouring communities,” he told the CBC.
Reg Niganobe, the chief of the Mississauga First Nation, says that helping maintain the park will allow First Nations to maintain their historical land and maintain their own rights to the area.
“It’s an important place to start because it ties not only to our connection to the land, but to our former travel routes and places that we frequented quite often,” Niganobe said. “And it’s keeping that connection and maintaining that history for our peoples.”
The municipality and the First Nations both hope that they can turn the area into a tourist destination year-round, as well as a site for traditional First Nations ceremonies and gatherings.
Niganobe says that working together with the municipality has been a positive experience because of their shared interest in keeping the park operational and in good shape, and he hopes that local communities and First Nations can work together when it comes to other issues as well, since they are the ones with a direct stake in what happens in the region.
“Because you already have a shared interest in the area that you’re usually talking about, because you’re both affected by it […] directly,” he said. “Somebody who comes in from, whether it be federal or provincial, they might not have an understanding of the area and sometimes suggest ideas that aren’t relatable to what you’re trying to accomplish.”