Address climate change and biodiversity loss

Hill Times: To Address Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss, Support Indigenous-led Conservation

By Valérie Courtois and Ernie Bussidor for The Hill Times

The United Nations issued two major reports recently about the state of biodiversity—the plants, animals, and natural systems we all depend on. The reports highlighted positive examples of conservation leadership from countries around the world.

When it came to Canada, most of the solutions the UN cited are led by Indigenous Peoples. From Indigenous Guardians to Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, the UN confirmed that Indigenous Nations are at the forefront of caring for lands and waters.

The Government of Canada has increasingly recognized Indigenous-led conservation as well. At the UN Biodiversity Summit last month, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada will protect 30 per cent of lands by 2030. He said Canada can achieve this goal by “working with Indigenous Peoples who need to be partners in protecting the land.”

Now, for the sake of our shared future, it’s time to put pledges of ambition and partnership into action. Indigenous Nations are stepping up, working to create new protected areas and sustain biodiversity. Indigenous Nations can help Canada become a global leader in conservation and much more.

Our country is grappling with complex, interwoven challenges. Climate change and species extinction are undermining our children’s future. COVID-19 threatens our health and economy. Acts of racism and denial of rights divide us. To tackle these crises, we need bold, sweeping solutions.

Indigenous-led conservation offers positive, transformative change—not only for the land but also communities and regional economies. It is a model of conservation rooted in responsibility and respect. Indigenous Peoples understand the land is the source of healing, reconciliation, and sustainable prosperity, and we have a cultural obligation to care for it.

Respecting and supporting this approach will help address pressing problems facing the country.

Tadoule Lake Stewardship Summit
Youth from Sayisi Dene First Nation, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, and Arvia learn about caring for the Seal River Watershed at the Tadoule Lake Stewardship Summit.

To maintain caribou, salmon, moose, and other species, for instance, scientists say we must protect intact lands at a large scale. In this country, the biggest proposals for conserving lands are coming from Indigenous Nations.

In northern Manitoba, for instance, five communities representing the Dene, Cree and Inuit are working to protect 50,000 square kilometres known as the Seal River Watershed. These are beautiful lands, full of clean lakes, boreal forest, caribou grounds and beluga calving waters. The deep soils of the Seal River Watershed store 667 million tonnes of carbon—the equivalent of 3.5 years’ worth of Canada’s annual industrial greenhouse gas emissions—preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere.

About two dozen other Indigenous Nations are advancing similar proposals with support from Canada’s Nature Fund. They are working in partnership with Crown governments, and together, they will ensure Canada meets conservation targets and draws on nature’s ability to fight climate change.

Indigenous-led conservation can also help create a more equitable, sustainable post-COVID economy. Indigenous Guardians programs create good-paying jobs rooted in culture and stewardship. Supplying Guardians programs to manage Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas injects millions of dollars into businesses in Yellowknife, Thompson, Goose Bay and more. These protected areas attract new tourism enterprises that grow out of healthy lands and bring further income into northern economies.

Indigenous Nations are leading these initiatives. We are determining our own futures and creating benefits for Canadian society at the same time. Respecting this work is fundamental to reconciliation, because honouring the cultural responsibility to care for the land helps Indigenous Peoples heal and thrive. We are proud to recognize our leadership on the land and reflect it in agreements with Crown governments.

Read the rest of this piece at The Hill Times.