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From the historic agreement that created the Great Bear Rainforest to B.C.’s Dasiqox Tribal Park to uniquely co-managed forest resources in Labrador, Indigenous-led conservation efforts are transforming the way Canadians understand and practice conservation.

Far from the colonial idea of preserving natural landscapes from human incursion, Indigenous land use plans put sustainable human-nature relationships that seek to revitalize traditional cultural practices at the centre.

It’s a vision of conservation and land use planning that can help Canada deliver on its promise of reconciliation and a renewed nation to nation relationship, according to Valérie Courtois , director of Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

In the recent federal budget, the Trudeau government committed $1.3 billion towards the creation of protected areas in Canada and some of those dollars are specially earmarked to support Indigenous participation.

We asked Courtois to speak with DeSmog Canada about Indigenous-led conservation, why it’s important and how it could transform Canada from the ground up.

This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. In the federal government’s most recent budget there was a big emphasis on support for Indigenous participation in conservation. Does this represent a changing tide when it comes to the way we view the creation of protected areas in Canada?

Yes.

Certainly the courts have been pretty clear on these things and — to government’s credit — it feels like they’re not just doing the bare minimum of what the courts have asked them to do in this reconciliation process.

This is really about resetting and renewing the relationship between crown governments and Indigenous peoples.

At the same time as that’s happening there’s also a real nationhood movement within Indigenous peoples — we have a population that is more educated, getting more sophisticated in terms of its political strategies and voices and certainly has never had more capacity to manage lands within a modern land management context.

I’m not dismissing exciting governance systems of lands that were there for thousands of years, but this movement towards nationhood and the seriousness of being nations is happening at this same time as this recognition is happening.

We not only have the ability to fill that space but be very creative and provide leaders in that space because of this movement that’s happening in our communities too. The Lutsel K’e First Nations and Crown governments are co-creating the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve along the eastern shores of Great Slave Lake. Photo: Pat Kane For me it’s hard to talk about Indigenous nations outside the context of my own but when we think about nationhood it’s all about who you are where you are — who you are within the land that is your home.

And conservation is one of the tools that allows us to fulfill a responsibility to our land within the reality of it being the central core of who we are as nations.

Much of our nationhood over time has been undermined because of the impacts on that relationship, whether that’s residential schools that took us away from the land or crazy development projects.

So, for example, if you’re a member of West Moberly First Nation in northeastern B.C., it’s very tough to be who you are on that landscape, especially if you consider the community’s historic relationship with caribou.

You can now count the remaining number of caribou there on two hands.That free-for-all mentality of ‘the land is open,’ has really had a huge impact on the cultural survival on our nations.So any tool that allows us to protect that land we need to be who we are and to be a part of decision-making on scale, pace and scope of development — […]

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