Background: Why the CGRF was formed

The CGRF was conceived back in 2008, in part to provide research support to a newly emerging corporate entity, the Rat Portage Common Ground Conservation Organization (RPCGCO). You can read the longer history of the Common Ground initiative here. 

The lands outlined in brown became the property of the Rat Portage Conservation Organization in 2008.

The RPCGCO is a corporation that since 2008 has held the 450 acres of land that formerly was owned by Abitibi, the company that operated the former Kenora paper mill. The land includes about 350 acres on Tunnel Island, Old Fort Island, and some other adjacent small islands in the Winnipeg River.  You can read more about the land here.

The corporation is unique in that it is made up equally of representatives from Anishinaabe and settler communities, including Grand Council Treaty #3, the City of Kenora, and the three First Nations that together constitute the Rat Portage #38 Band: Obashkaandagaang First Nation, Ochiichagwe’babigo’ining Ojibwe Nation and Wauzhushk Onigum Nation, whose traditional areas overlap around this spot. These same entities also had representatives on the Executive Committee of the CGRF to ensure an easy exchange of information and guidance from the corporate partners to the research project.

The RPCGCO’s governance structure, with its equal partnership among settler and Indigenous signatories, echoes the spirit and intent behind our treaty: that as people who share a place, we have an obligation to share in the governance and management of all resources, for the mutual benefit of all our people. Though we have different cultural traditions and different ways of doing things, we respect and honor our mutual systems. We are in this together, as equals.

Though vast parts of Canada are covered by Treaties, the “Common Ground” partnership represented one of the first examples of actually enacting the spirit and intent of a treaty in modern times. As such, it raised interesting questions about how to actually do this in practice, such as:  How can Treaty peoples work together to achieve common goals, while still respecting each other’s culturally distinct processes?

The Common Ground Research Forum was formed with the intention of providing the capacity to try to answer some of these theoretical and practical questions and achieve these goals:

  • What triggers and shapes cross-cultural collaboration and social learning?
  • How does collaborative land use planning contribute to social learning, and how does that learning support sustainable local and regional economies?
  • Increase awareness of sustainable social and economic benefits of cross-cultural collaboration and the Common Ground initiative.
  • Enhance capacity for cross-cultural collaboration, social learning and planning for sustainability.

Media Coverage of the Common Ground Lands

Ground gained in common legacy lands discussion

By Miner and News Staff, Thursday March 16, 2006

After closed door talks late last week focused on building consensus on common legacy lands, city staff are looking forward to sitting down again with their counterparts from Grand Council Treaty 3.

“Over two intensive days, we all gained a much deeper understanding of both the land and of each other,” said Mayor Dave Canfield in a prepared statement released Wednesday.

Grand Chief Arnold Gardner agreed. “This is the foundation of a true partnership.”

The ogichidaa hoped to involve elders in a common vision for land, and shared the mayor’s sense of optimism.

Both sides have been working on the Common Land, Common Ground initiative since the fall of 2000. Lately, this has come to include discussions on the development of the Tunnel Island heritage project.

On March 9 and 10, the parties met to develop strategic directions for the handling of the historic lands in which they share a common interest.

With the closure of the Abitibi mill and the discovery of the historic Rat Portage, which joined continental trade routes dating back thousands of years, there is new room for movement on the creation of a tourist destination that would emphasize the aboriginal and non-aboriginal aspects of the community.

Abitibi transfers Tunnel Island to Common Ground Working Group

By Reg Clayton, Miner and News, Thursday November 09, 2006

The Common Ground initiative envisioned for Tunnel Island/Rat Portage is suddenly very much a ‘go’ project.

In a surprising development, city officials announced Wednesday that Abitibi Consolidated has agreed to transfer more than 120 hectares (300 acres) of company owned property on the island to the Common Ground Working Group.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by city, First Nations and Abitibi officials, the land will be held in trust by the city for two years while the working group establishes a legal entity and a management structure to assume ownership of the land. No development will occur while city and First Nations working group representatives consider future possibilities for the historic, archeological and culturally significant site.

After signing the historic agreement at a special council meeting Wednesday, Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Arnold Gardner said the first order of business is consultations between First Nation elders and the working group. Ojibway elders are expected to visit archeological sites on the island Friday.

“What was done today is a beginning, now the work begins with the community and the First Nations,” the grand chief said. “The challenges are going to be making sure that whatever development is going to be there is for the benefit of all the communities. There’s a lot of work, a lot of ideas, we have to put it all together.”

Gardner noted that in addition to city and Treaty 3 representatives, delegates from three area First Nations will continue to be at the forefront of future involvements representing the original Rat Portage band: Wauzhusk Onigum, Ochiichagwe’ Babigo’ Ining and Obashkaandagaang Bay.

Mayor Dave Canfield is optimistic the working group will establish the management entity and assume responsibility for the property sooner rather than later. He referred to the spirit of co-operation that has prevailed since the current initiative was presented at a series of workshops in March. Tunnel Island was also the focus of a previous proposal completed by the Forest Capital Planning Group in 1999.

“To bring this together this quickly, we know where we want to go from here,” Canfield said.

He noted a “window of opportunity” opened as Abitibi is interested in establishing an independent entity utilizing the two Kenora generating stations and six other hydroelectric dams it owns in the province to sell electricity on the provincial grid.

“The decision was made to proceed (with the land transfer) now rather than over the next two to four years. A lot of people worked hard to make it happen,” Canfield said.

The mayor noted that in signing the Memorandum of Understanding, the city is not waiving any rights to future claims in negotiations with Abitibi.

Rather than pursuing severances from the city for the Norman Dam and Kenora generating stations, Abitibi retains property it already owns while gifting parcels of land located north and south of the Winnipeg River to Common Ground.

“Abitibi is proud to contribute to this historic and ground-breaking partnership between the City of Kenora and the Treaty 3 Nation,” stated company spokesman Denis Leclerc in a news release. “Recognition that we are all part of the same community is important for the development of a shared vision for the future.”

As it was the final meeting of the current term of city council, councillors were effusive in their praise for all involved in achieving the agreement. Special mention was made of contributions by: Cuyler Cotton for his historic research into the Rat Portage of John Bigsby; Adolphus Cameron, Treaty 3 representative to the working group, Treaty 3 Grand Chief Arnold Gardner, Coun. Rory McMillan, Jeff Port and Jennifer Rasmussen, city representatives on the working group.

City, Treaty 3 gifted Old Fort Island by Abitibi

By Mike Aiken, Miner and News, Thursday April 12, 2007

It was a historic day at the Dalles First Nation community centre Wednesday. Kenora Mayor Len Compton joined Treaty 3 Grand Chief Arnold Gardner and Abitibi vice-president Thor Thorgrimson in signing an agreement that paved the way for the transfer 70 acres of land on Old Fort Island.

“I am honoured to be present, as we take our first formal steps together down the shared path of our Common Ground,” said the mayor.

“Today demonstrates how accepting and respecting our differences makes us unique,” noted the grand chief.

The Common Land, Common Ground process began more than six years ago, following the tragic death of two First Nations residents in Kenora. What began with discussions between former mayor Dave Canfield and former grand chief Leon Jourdain has grown to involve workshops and seminars, as well as projects of common interest.

It continued last November, when the three parties agreed on a process for the transfer of more than 300 acres on neighbouring  Tunnel Island