Indigenous groups in Canada are welcoming plans by Ottawa and Washington to partner with Indigenous Nations across Canada and the United States to meet their climate change goals and protect nature.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed during their virtual meeting earlier this week to “be partners in protecting nature, including by supporting Indigenous-led conservation efforts.”
The two leaders agreed to work together on environmental restoration and conservation efforts, and to advancing nature-based solutions, said the joint statement released after their meeting on Tuesday.
“In advancing climate solutions and protecting nature, both the President and the Prime Minister agreed on the importance of doing this work with Indigenous peoples, sub-national governments, workers, and stakeholders including civil society, youth, business and industry,” the statement said.
“The leaders also recognized the ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In particular, they agreed to work together to help safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds that are invaluable to the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit peoples’ culture and subsistence.”
‘Together we can build a better future’
Valérie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI), said the success of Indigenous-led conservation is gaining visibility at the highest levels of government.
“We welcome U.S. and Canadian commitments to partner with Indigenous Nations on conservation and climate change. Together we can build a better future,” Courtois said.
Ethel Blondin- Andrew, the first Indigenous woman elected to Parliament and the first to serve as a federal cabinet minister in the government of former prime minister Paul Martin, said Indigenous-led conservation is the single best strategy to ensure Canada and the U.S. achieve critical goals to address climate change and biodiversity loss.
Canada’s Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of some of the most ambitious conservation projects in the country.
The Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation led the creation of Thaidene Nëné, one of the largest protected areas in North America in 2019. The Dehcho First Nations passed a law in 2018 to create the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area in the Northwest Territories.
According to ILI, dozens of other First Nations have proposed Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.
“Indigenous Peoples are on the ground, protecting lands and fighting climate change,” said Steven Nitah, lead negotiator for Thaidene Nëné. “Our leadership can help the U.S. and Canada reach their targets.”
The Trudeau government has already committed to protecting 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.
“By partnering with Indigenous Peoples, the U.S. and Canada can promote a model of conservation rooted in equity and respect and show global leadership in addressing climate change,” said hereditary Chief Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk Nation in British Columbia.