Nature conservation | Indigenous people have a role to play, according to Steven Guilbeault

Indigenous peoples will in future play a fundamental role in the conservation of nature. Most protected areas in Canada are now proposed by Aboriginal groups who want to take care of themselves.

Posted at 1:51 PM.

Bob Weber
The Canadian press

There are about 80 protected areas in Canada that are monitored by the people who originally owned the land. Some are designated exclusively by the local First Nation, and others are part of the national park system. But others – many more – are to come.

The latest federal budget provides funding for at least 27 more protected and protected areas by indigenous peoples. Ottawa has just signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, to assess the feasibility of establishing a new protected area along Labrador’s north coast.

This is the only way for Canada to fulfill its international commitment to protect 30% of its land territory, said Sandra Schwartz of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

It is realistic to achieve these protection objectives for Canada. Many of these places are in native lands.

Sandra Schwartz, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Indigenous people have a historical cultural connection to the land and a political will to have a land base, said Val Courtois of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. The claim of land rights in Canada has always been about this relationship to place. It’s just a new way of describing this responsibility. »

Indigenous protected and protected areas have been established through federal, provincial and other group structures and vary widely in their operations and activities. Some do not meet international standards for conservation areas and will not count towards Canada’s 30% target.

Yet they all involve some level of indigenous common management, including land use planning and guardians – the local First Nations people who manage the land and are trained to do so.

Crucial element of reconciliation

Tanya Ball began her career as a social worker for Kaska Dene First Nation. Now she runs a Land Guardians program where she works to monitor and protect much of the wilderness of northern British Columbia.

She still considers herself a kind of social worker.

“Soil protectors can help the soil heal,” she said. And the earth can help caretakers heal. »

Mme Ball is at the forefront of the new way Canada protects its still healthy rivers, lakes, forests, mountains and plains. Crown governments used to mark an area that was considered particularly scenic or suitable for outdoor recreation, calling it a park. Not anymore.

“There is no future in conservation where the federal government is involved [et] where indigenous peoples are not involved from the start, ”said Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.

This traditional model belongs to the past.

Steven Guilbeault, Federal Secretary of the Environment

Mme Ball said his eight-person team collects water samples, maps, monitors hunting, delineates archeological sites, tracks visitor influences, monitors animal movements, assists conservation officers and conducts research projects. “They’re very busy,” she says.

One thing they do not do is put up fences. Native protected areas are not meant to keep anyone out, Ms Polite.

“I would fall out of my chair if I heard of a native group saying, ‘Let’s exclude everyone,'” she said. , how we think about these places. ”

Tara Shea of ​​the Mining Association of Canada said her group generally supports the protection of indigenous countries – as long as the process is transparent and potential mining concessions are considered in advance.

“We are convinced that the development of mining and the conservation of biodiversity can go hand in hand.”

There are challenges. While the federal government has earmarked more than $ 300 million since 2018 for indigenous peoples conservation, Guilbeault acknowledges that a permanent source of funding is still being sought for such programs.

“We do not make permanent programs. The philanthropic world has played a huge role in conservation and will continue to do so. We welcome their commitment.”

Ottawa, the Northwest Territories, local First Nations, and the U.S.-based nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts are currently negotiating a way to fund the National Park and Area Warden program. Edehzhie native protected woman.

Another obstacle is the varying degrees of support from provincial governments, which control most of Canada’s crown land.

“The level of enthusiasm varies,” says Guilbeault, who declined to give further details. Some provincial governments do not believe in government-to-government relations. »

“It is difficult for the provinces,” said Polite. They are used to sitting in the driver’s seat. »

Mme Ball believes that indigenous conservation is important to the entire country as a vital part of reconciliation. She welcomes what will happen if members of her first nation go to countries they help administer.

“Sometimes people just want to go out for the day. I already see a difference in people at the end of the day. Their behavior changes, their mood has improved,” Ms Ball. She thinks it will also help a lot on social issues.

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