Melanie Norwegian, of Jean Marie River's Tthets'éhk'edélî First Nation, signs the PFP framework agreement in the presence of Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty (rear), NWT environment minister Shane Thompson (right) and others. Photo: Jamie Stevenson
A framework signed this week brings the NWT closer to using hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and private investment to run Indigenous-led conservation projects.
The idea is called Project Finance for Permanence. It involves government funding but also pairs private investors with communities to fund long-term projects.
Central to the philosophy is that the projects are overseen by Indigenous communities.
Supporters say PFP allows communities to derive economic growth from environmental protection work. The NWT’s government says it’s a step toward “a healthy economy and environment.”
Indigenous, territorial and federal governments are all signatories to the framework.
In a joint news release, the groups involved said the federal government had made “an initial floor commitment” of $100 million to PFP in the NWT, while private donors are “working to raise up to $100 million.” Final contributions will be reflected in a closing agreement, the timeline for which is not yet clear.
The document signed this week isn’t a funding agreement or final announcement, but was characterized by officials as an interim step that sets out what can be funded through PFP.
Work is ongoing to figure out who the private donors will be. The Pew Charitable Trusts, a US-based non-profit, has been reaching out to American investors. Similar work has been taking place in Canada.
Getting to this point has taken at least 18 months of negotiations.
Organizations quoted in a news release about the framework signing include the federal and NWT governments, the North Slave Métis Alliance, Northwest Territory Métis Nation, Délįnę Got’įnę Government, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Dehcho First Nations and Tłıchǫ Government.
“It is imperative that we work together as a united front. We must continue to protect and advocate for ourselves, our rights, our wildlife and our land into the future,” North Slave Métis Alliance President Marc Whitford was quoted as saying.
“The long-term reliable funding provided through the PFP process will be instrumental to our organization … we are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with our Indigenous neighbours, government partners, and industry representatives.”
Federal environment minister Stephen Guilbeault was quoted as saying: “By coupling Indigenous and Western science, we can fight the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, strengthen our relationships with Indigenous communities, and build a better future for everyone.”
Cash for conservation
PFP’s proponents say the model undercuts the usual assumption in the Northwest Territories that economic development and conservation are mutually exclusive.
They point to the use of PFP to protect ecosystems like sections of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and the Great Bear rainforest in British Columbia.
Meanwhile, economic development is an important part of the benefit the LK region hopes to see from the relatively new Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve and associated protected area.
The framework signed this week states that PFP can be used to establish new areas similar to Edéhzhíe, fund ongoing stewardship of existing areas, support Guardians programs, expand climate research, fund on-the-land programs and invest in “conservation-based economic opportunities.”
In a joint press release, the groups involved said PFP could ultimately “help communities conduct climate monitoring and prepare for increased fire risk, changing water levels, and other climate impacts.” Most NWT communities have been affected in at least some way by low water and wildfires over the past few months.
Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said he hopes a final agreement can help establish a Guardians program in the region.
Danny Gaudet, the Ɂek’wahtı̨dǝ́ or leader of the Délįnę Got’įnę government, said PFP would “not only expand conservation, but it will also advance reconciliation by respecting Indigenous knowledge and decision-making.”
The leaders involved were expected to hold a press conference about a framework they called a “historic milestone” by video on Friday.