The federal government says it will provide $340 million to Indigenous-led conservation efforts – an announcement being met with “cautious optimism” from advocates.
Environment and Climate Change Canada announced the funding on Thursday afternoon. Up to $173 million is for new and existing Indigenous guardian programs, according to a news release, while $166 million will support Indigenous protected and conserved areas.
Dahti Tsetso is Tłı̨chǫ Dene living in Fort Simpson and serves as deputy director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI), an organization that advocates for Indigenous-led conservation.
Tsetso told Cabin Radio she was happy to learn about the funding commitment but more resources are needed.
“ILI has done some math around it and had put in a proposal on meeting the needs of communities on the ground,” Tsetso explained, “and the budget submission is greater than what’s been invested.
“We are celebrating – I don’t want to not celebrate this – but just recognizing that there’s still work to be done. We would like to see more earmarked toward Indigenous leadership and conservation.”
Conservation in the NWT
The latest announcement echoes previous federal funding allocated through the Indigenous Guardians pilot program, launched in 2018. At the time, Canada promised $25 million over four years to support Indigenous communities starting their own stewardship projects.
In the Northwest Territories, Indigenous-led conservation and guardianship has been ongoing for decades.
The Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area in Łútsël K’é was hailed as a landmark achievement when it was signed into existence in 2019 – though surrounding First Nations and Métis communities had been fighting for its creation for more than 50 years.
The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation manages the area and runs the Ni Hat’ni Dene Guardians program. The First Nation was one of 10 Indigenous communities around the world last year to win a UN Equator Prize for its leadership in establishing and caring for Thaidene Nëné.
In the Dehcho, the Edéhzhíe Protected Area was established in 2018 by the Dehcho First Nations and the federal government alongside the Dehcho K’éhodi Stewardship Program, which monitors the land.
More guardian programs are popping up elsewhere in the NWT.
The Deninu Kue First Nation announced its intention to start a guardianship program earlier this summer. According to a map of funded projects within the Indigenous Guardians Pilot program, both the Sahtu Dene Council and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation are looking to launch stewardship projects.
For Tsetso, these programs are key to addressing climate change.
“Indigenous life conservation and guardians on the ground help provide real, tangible solutions to responding to climate change,” Tsetso said.
“The wonderful thing about the knowledge held by our peoples and communities is it goes back a long way. For example, Indigenous communities in the North have a lot of knowledge around permafrost degradation and the impact that they’re seeing at a community level.
“Being able to gather knowledge held within Indigenous communities around the changes to environment … will really strengthen our understanding of how the climate is changing, and that is an important step in determining responses to climate change.”