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Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change

by Sabeen Abbas: June 27, 2021

This May, The Narwhal, held a webinar on the role Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas (IPCAs) could play in protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change (1). IPCAs are different from other Conservation Areas because the lands and waters are governed by Indigenous leadership using Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems (2). Valérie Courtois, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Institute, talked about reframing “land use plans” as “relationship plans”. It’s a fundamentally different way of interacting with the world around us when you think about your responsibilities towards land, water, and other species and not just the rights you have to extract “natural resources”. 

The Government of Canada has made a commitment to protect 25% of Canada’s land and water by 2025 (3) and the creation of IPCAs helps with reaching that goal. The creation of IPCAs is an excellent step in conservation efforts that ultimately benefit all of us. During the webinar, Steven Nitah, Lead Negotiator for the Thaidene Nëné IPCA talked about how the establishment of the IPCA in 2019 allowed for resuming responsibility and care of the land, including protection from industrial development. According to the federal government’s website, “Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently investing $100 million in nature conservation projects led by Indigenous communities across Canada”, including 27 communities receiving funding for IPCAs (4). 

Related in some ways to the creation of IPCAs is the Land Back movement. While the Government of Canada seems supportive of the creation of IPCAs, Indigenous communities across Canada continue to have to re-state and re-assert their rights to their land. In Ontario, the Six Nations of the Grand River have declared a moratorium on new development along the Haldimand Tract and yet developers continue to push to build subdivisions (5). Conflict between RCMP and members of the Fairy Tree Blockade, who are protecting the last remaining old-growth temperate rainforests in British Columbia, continues even as a two year moratorium on logging has been called by Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedaht and Didadah First Nations (6). 

The David Suzuki foundation does a great job putting the movement in historical perspective with three short videos (7). The Yellowhead Institute released a paper (8) on the Land Back movement in October 2019 and have a page of resources to learn more (9). 

The current climate emergency has its roots in colonial systems of governance and the displacement of Indigenous communities from their lands and waters. Tackling the climate emergency requires addressing historical and ongoing injustices. Bill C-15, a new piece of legislation that seeks to harmonize Canadian laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), received royal assent on June 21. It has been an 11 year journey since Canada endorsed the UN Declaration in 2010 (10). Whether we are talking about IPCAs or the Land Back movement, perhaps the passing of this bill will make it easier for Indigenous communities to have their voices heard and respected.