By Cathy Wilkinson
This week, Canada is hosting an international Nature Champions Summit in Montreal. Environment ministers from around the world, Indigenous leaders and others will gather to share solutions for how to protect nature on a grand scale.
Here in Canada, people want leaders to think big when it comes to conservation.
A new poll, conducted by Abacus Data for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, confirms that almost all Canadians think the country should do more to conserve nature. Nearly nine in 10 want Canada to achieve its commitment to protect at least 17% of lands and waters by 2020. And 88% think the government should prioritize addressing the alarming rate of animal and plant extinctions.
Most people also value the role of Indigenous communities and Indigenous-led stewardship in making large-scale progress on conservation. Indeed, dozens of Indigenous Nations from across the country are coming forward with proposals for new Indigenous protected areas that span millions of hectares of vibrant lands and clean waters.
Now is the time for Canada to demonstrate conservation leadership, both on the international stage, and here at home. The Government of Canada can do that by working in partnership with Indigenous Nations as well as with provincial and territorial governments to help make these Indigenous protected areas a reality.
Working together will generate benefits for all Canadians—and the larger world.
The proposed Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta/Ramparts Indigenous Protected Area, for instance, sits atop a globally significant storehouse of carbon. The trees, wetlands, soils and peatlands of this region in the Upper Mackenzie Valley have captured and stored carbon over thousands of years, preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere and intensifying climate change.
The Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta/Ramparts Indigenous Protected Area holds an estimated 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon—similar to 7 years’ worth of Canadian industrial greenhouse gas emissions at 2017 levels.
And that’s just one Indigenous-led initiative.
Scores of Indigenous Nations are mapping traditional territory to determine which lands to conserve and where to consider development. The Dehcho First Nations, for instance, recently signed an agreement with Canada to establish the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area. It conserves 14,000 square kilometres—over twice the size of Banff National Park—of boreal forest, headwater lakes and caribou habitat west of Yellowknife.
Many other Indigenous Nations are interested in partnering with Crown governments to make similar gains. The public supports this approach to conservation. According to the Abacus Data poll, nearly eight in 10 support long-term federal investments in Indigenous protected areas and Indigenous Guardians programs.
These partnerships offer a powerful model for conservation: one that protects natural systems on a sweeping scale and honours Indigenous Peoples’ leadership on the land. Canada can highlight its commitment to this model at the Nature Champion Summit in Montreal. And in the process, it can demonstrate that Indigenous and Crown governments can conserve globally significant places, advance reconciliation and provide hope for the future.