Hill Times: Investing in Indigenous conservation delivers major social and environmental benefits



By Valerie Courtois & Denis Rose

February 4, 2019 | The Hill Times

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Australia may be half a world away and as hot and dry as Canada is cold and snowy but when it comes to looking after the land, our two countries have plenty in common. Both are committed to protecting vibrant landscapes, restoring species at risk and addressing the impacts of climate change. And both recognize the leadership of Indigenous Peoples in helping achieve these goals.

Australia has also demonstrated that making long-term investments in Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship not only protects more land, but also creates major social, cultural and economic benefits.

Now Canada is poised to deliver similar results. The country pledged to protect at least 17 per cent of lands by 2020 as part of the global effort to conserve biodiversity. With provinces and territories, Canada has expressed a strong commitment to work with Indigenous communities, many of whom are eager to create Indigenous Protected Areas managed through Indigenous Guardian programs. As part of the Canada Nature Fund, the federal government committed $175 million towards these efforts over the next four years, in addition to a $25 million pilot project announced in 2017 for Indigenous Guardians.

These are powerful first steps, but Australia shows how much more can be achieved when governments make long-term investments in Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous land management.

This week, a delegation of Indigenous land managers from Australia will meet with Indigenous communities and government officials in Ottawa, Victoria and Yellowknife. They will discuss how a similar approach could help Canada meet its conservation commitments and renew relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

The Australian Indigenous Protected Area network started in 1997 to partner with Indigenous landowners who wanted to dedicate some of their land to Australia’s protected area system while remaining in control of management. There are now 75 Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) accounting for more than 45 per cent of Australia’s National Reserve System. In 2007, Australia developed a national funding approach for Indigenous Rangers—local people who lead conservation management through traditional knowledge and contemporary science.

In Canada, many Indigenous Nations are also identifying protected areas, such as the newly established Edehzhie National Wildlife Area/Dehcho Protected Area and the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve. And from the Haida Gwaii Watchmen who protect the land and waters of their West Coast nation, to the Innu Nation Environmental Guardians who manage all environmental programs of the Innu Nation in Labrador, Indigenous Peoples are already caring for the land. With added support their proven leadership will help protect and sustain more going forward.

This is a pivotal moment for Canada and an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership. By investing in Indigenous planning, protection and management, the federal government can advance two key policy goals: conservation and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Polling by Earnscliffe Strategy Group shows that 87 per cent of Canadians support protecting at least 17 per cent of land by 2020. And about three-quarters support Indigenous communities creating and managing IPAs.

And there’s a good return on the investment. Australian researchers found that each $1 invested in integrated IPA and Indigenous Rangers programs can generates $3 in conservation, health and economic benefits. These include reduced spending on social and justice programs, more job opportunities in remote communities, a sense of empowerment contributing to individual and community wellbeing and greater sense of pride and purpose for Indigenous youth.

Here in Canada, an analysis of two emerging Indigenous Guardians groups showed they already deliver similar social, cultural and economic benefits.

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed on the Hill Times website.

 Photograph courtesy of the N.W.T. Government

OpinionCarly Pearlman