Indigenous Conservation Offers Model for International Leadership



By Valérie Courtois

April 22, 2019 | The Hill Times

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Indigenous leaders have an important message of hope to share at an international summit being hosted by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna this week in Montreal.

From coast to coast to coast, a movement is growing up from the land calling for Indigenous leadership on conservation. We see it in the scores of Indigenous Nations proposing new protected areas. We see it in the over 40 Indigenous Guardians programs that manage lands and waters. And we see it the thousands of Indigenous youth, elders and women leaders who are honouring their cultural responsibility to care for the land.

Now is pivotal time to support this movement. Canada has pledged to nearly double its protected lands by 2020. It made this commitment in 2010 as part of the global effort to stem the tide of animal and plant extinctions. Canada’s international commitment requires protecting 17% of lands and freshwaters by 2020, and the federal government invested $175 million to accelerate progress.

Almost nine out of 10 Canadians support reaching this conservation goal, according to a new poll conducted by Abacus Data for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign. A full 89% of Quebec residents support it.

Many Indigenous Nations are eager to lead in protecting lands and waters and to partner with Canada to honour these commitments. The sheer number of proposals Canada is receiving from Indigenous Nations across the country is testament to the power and scale of this vision.

Supporting this leadership will deliver benefits for all.

The same places that Indigenous Nations are conserving help provide clean air and water, abundant animals and plants, a more stable climate, and recreation opportunities for all Canadians. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike rely on the land, and it’s in our collective interest to ensure those lands remain healthy and vibrant for generations to come.

By working together, forging partnerships, and investing in new tools, Canada and Indigenous Nations can create that future. In fact, the work is already underway.

The Cree Nation, for instance, plans to conserve 30 percent of its traditional territory. Now forest lands, headwater lakes and caribou habitat totaling the size of Ireland will be sustained. The announcement was part of the Plan Nord, Quebec’s world-leading management approach to protecting half of the province’s northern lands while supporting sustainable development in the rest.

Conservation partnerships are not new to Quebec. The Kativik Regional Government in Nunavik has been steadily growing its network of protected areas, including Tursujuq, the largest provincial park in Eastern Canada.

Canadians value these partnerships and want to invest in Indigenous guardianship. Over two-thirds of Canadians would back a federal program to support Indigenous protected area and Indigenous Guardians programs, according to the Abacus Data poll, with 80% of Quebecois calling for such a program. A federal commitment to long-term investments will lead to more conservation gains across the country.

These breakthroughs here at home can help Canada become a leader on the international stage. This week, Canada is convening the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal. It will bring together environmental ministers, Indigenous leaders, and philanthropic and business representatives from around the world to call for ambitious targets for protecting lands and waters.

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