The federal government has committed C$340 million over five years to support a national Indigenous guardians network and fund Indigenous Protected Areas.
“It is heartening to see the recognition of the role of Indigenous conservation and stewardship in achieving Canada’s ambitions in terms of its biodiversity goals and certainly in terms of keeping carbon where it is, which is in the ground,” Indigenous Leadership Initiative Director Valérie Courtois told The Narwhal.
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Courtois was reacting to the announcement just days after a landmark science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the September 20 federal election.
The Narwhal’s coverage points to nature-based climate solutions, including Indigenous Protected Areas, as an opportunity to “create huge carbon sinks” to help reduce concentrations of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Courtois said the proposed Kaska Indigenous Protected Area in northern British Columbia would sequester about 4.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, while the Déline community’s plan to protect the Great Bear Lake watershed in the Northwest Territories would store more than 4.5 billion tonnes.
“And that’s just one proposal,” Courtois told reporter Matt Simmons. “The reality is that the dual crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change that we’re facing as a globe is one that’s going to require bold changes.”
Against that dual challenge, she added, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Guardians “can form an anchor or basis for a conservation-based economy.”
Guardians are also often described “as the eyes and ears on the land,” and “have continually proven their value not only to their communities and to conservation efforts, but also to industrial operations,” Simmons writes. In one incident at the world’s largest nickel mine in Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, Innu guardians “discovered a spill polluting a fish-bearing stream that would have otherwise gone unchecked. The discovery simultaneously protected the environment and saved the mining company millions of dollars in fines.”
“That one incident has almost paid for the cost of the life of the program,” Courtois said.
While the latest round of program funding is badly needed, The Narwhal says it’s a “drop in the bucket compared to the need and desire from Indigenous communities across the country.” When Ottawa put $25 million into a much-celebrated pilot project in 2016, 125 Indigenous communities applied for the 10 available spots.
Analysis of those programs shows they delivered economic as well as environmental benefits, the news story adds: a guardian program in the NWT produced $2.50 in social, cultural, and environmental benefits for every dollar invested, while a project undertaken by Coastal First Nations in B.C. delivered $10 in benefits for every dollar spent.
Courtois called the Coastal First Nations Pilot “a great example of how guardians being present has enabled the ability of the nations to really explore what a conservation-based economy looks like.” The ultimate vision for the program, she added, “is really that every Indigenous nation in Canada that wants a guardian program should be able to have one and be supported in that because of the incredible return on investments of those programs and the impacts that they can have for everybody.”
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