Uplifting Indigenous-led Approaches to Conservation and Biodiversity Protection

CAW At-Risk Species in Canada
CAW At-Risk Species in Canada

“Indigenous peoples have the longest standing relationship with Mother Earth and the necessary values to effect meaningful and quick change. We view the Earth as our mother, rather than a resource for monetary gain. Those are the people who should be leading this conversation, because the solutions have always been here.”

Tia Kennedy  
KAIROS and FLC Indigenous youth delegate to COP27 

In May, on the International Day for Biological Diversity, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell emphasized the cyclical relationship between biodiversity and climate change: 

“A stable climate is the foundation for healthy and thriving biodiversity, which is critical to stabilize the climate system and ensure the long-term wellbeing of all, including nature and future generations.”

Much attention has been given to these intersecting crises in the last year with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and renewed commitments from governments, including in Canada, to bring about a world living in harmony with nature by 2050. Canada has promised legislation and investments to support these commitments. Furthermore, the GBF recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC), which was lauded as a victory at COP15 by Indigenous peoples and long-time advocates. These recognitions and agreements are positive steps in our efforts to avert global catastrophe. 

However, the GBF and other global agreements like the Paris Accord are not legally binding and we have yet to see how and when these commitments will be fulfilled.  It also remains to be seen how the recognition of Indigenous rights will be applied in practice. In the race to “protect” nature and find “nature-based” solutions to the climate crisis, Indigenous communities and peasants in the Global South have faced land grabs and forcible evictions to make room for large land acquisitions made in the name of carbon offset programs and nature preserves. Indigenous peoples continue to be criminalized for protecting the land and waters in their territories and their right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) has been violated with resource extraction projects. These practices need to be abandoned and we must closely monitor governments to ensure nature protection does not infringe on the rights of Indigenous peoples and peasants. 

In 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment noted that the specific rights and contributions of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, local communities, peasants, rural women, and rural youth have the greatest potential for effectively and equitably protecting biodiversity. 

Stiell reiterated this point in May saying: “It is more widely recognized than ever that the global community benefits by bringing [Indigenous peoples] values and knowledge systems into collective efforts to stabilize the climate system and reverse biodiversity decline.” 

These high-level statements capture what Indigenous peoples have known for centuries. Valérie Courtois describes this knowledge in a teaching from her ancestors. “If we take care of the land, the land takes care of us.”  

Indigenous peoples have been protecting and conserving ecosystems for thousands of years and doing so with their own knowledge systems and resources. This work benefits all. In Canada, a network of Indigenous Guardians is growing. According to the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, guardians are “trained experts who manage protected areas, restore animals and plants, test water quality and monitor development. They play a vital role in creating land-use and marine-use plans.”  

There are now more than 120 Indigenous Guardians programs across this country known as Canada. This program is a significant example of how Canada can build nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples on respect and the recognition of rights. The federal government has invested in the Indigenous Guardians program and must continue to meet its responsibility in this relationship with robust funding and long-term investment that meets the full wage costs of Indigenous Guardians. 

But we cannot rely on these programs alone. At COP15, Indigenous activist Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Tla’amin Nation said: “They want Indigenous knowledge to fix colonial problems, but refuse to end colonial warfare.”  

If we do not address the root causes of climate change and biodiversity loss – such as unabated resource extraction, concepts of infinite growth and colonialism – then we will not succeed in meeting this challenge.  

Learn more 

Take Action 

  1. Show your support for Indigenous Guardians. Sign the statement of support from Land Needs Guardians to show the government of Canada that people support Indigenous-led conservation and want more Guardians on the ground protecting lands and waters. 
  2. Write to your MP and urge them to ensure that Canada’s biodiversity legislation: 
    • Respects and supports Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
    • Prioritizes and enables Indigenous protection and restoration practices.
  3. Support global organizations that are working on human rights-based approaches to conserving biodiversity like,

RESOURCE FEATURE – The Climate Atlas of Canada – Indigenous Knowledges 

“Indigenous ways of knowing and being are critical for understanding, observing, and addressing climate change.”

Climate Atlas of Canada

The Climate Atlas of Canada combines climate science, mapping, and storytelling together with Indigenous Knowledges and community-based research and video to inspire awareness and action. The Atlas recognizes that: 

“Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have respectfully lived with the natural world, and have a deep connection to the land, water, and ecosystems that are central to their cultures, languages, and livelihoods. Through this intergenerational experience and observation, Indigenous peoples were amongst the first to notice climate change and also have critical knowledges for navigating and adapting to it.”

The Indigenous Knowledges section of the Atlas contains unique and rich knowledge from First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples linked to their history, territories, and understanding of the environment. Explore the Indigenous Knowledges section of the Atlas. 

TOMORROW: Visit the KAIROS blog tomorrow to learn about Indigenous Principles for a Just Transition! There is still time to register for Climate Action Dialogues: Indigenous Principles for a Just Transition @ noon EDT tomorrow (June 7). Register Now.

Filed in: Climate Action Week, Ecological Justice

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