Research Confirms: Indigenous Guardians Deliver Economic, Social & Environmental Success

Jul 28, 2020 | News Releases

July 29th 2020

Indigenous Guardian programs deliver proven benefits for First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians across the country, according to a new report by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre and the First Nations Energy and Mining Council. Their record of success includes creating economic opportunity, conserving large landscapes and strengthening communities. They also foster Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and governments.

Researchers looked at more than 70 Guardian programs and similar initiatives around the globe. Their the report, called “The Case for a Guardian Network Initiative,” offers one of the most comprehensive reviews of Guardian programs in Canada.

The report concludes that establishing the network will spread economic, social and environmental
benefits throughout Canada.

In particular, it will enhance the economic opportunities generated by Guardians programs, such as:

• Offering good-paying jobs in remote communities and training for youth
• Spurring major investments in regional suppliers and service providers
• Creating new business opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrepreneurs alike
• Providing certainty about where and how industry can operate in traditional territories

“Guardian programs foster resilient economies,” said Dave Porter, CEO of BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council and senior leader of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. “As Canada prepares to build back better in the face of COVID-19, it must commit to greater economic justice. Investing in a guardians network will lay the foundation for a more equitable, sustainable form of prosperity.”

The report notes that Australia has committed almost $1.5 billion to Indigenous conservation. Research shows every $1 invested in combined Indigenous Protected Areas and the Australian equivalent of guardians can generate up to $3 in social, economic, and cultural benefits.

“Australia shows what can be achieved when governments invest in Indigenous-led conservation,” said Heiltsuk Nation Hereditary Chief Frank Brown. “We need that kind of commitment in Canada now more than ever. Because investing in First Nations’ stewardship can help the country heal—from the pandemic, from economic hardship, and from colonialism.”

Guardian programs also help address major environmental challenges, including climate change and the loss of biodiversity, the report finds. They help restore herring fisheries, salmon watersheds and caribou herds. And they research and respond to shifts in wildfires, bird migrations, pest infestations and other climate impacts.

“Guardians are helping Canada meet climate and biodiversity commitments by being on the ground, caring for the land,” said Valérie Courtois, the director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. “They are also helping establish and manage Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas—the most effective way for Canada to achieve its goal of protecting 25% of lands by 2025. This report confirms that investing in Indigenous stewardship will help Canada become a global leader in conservation.”

The report identifies the core elements that make Guardian programs thrive, and it outlines the benefits of building a national network to support their work. It also provides the legal underpinning for a Guardian Network Initiative.

“Support for Guardians is a crucial part of honouring Canada’s legal and constitutional obligations to Indigenous Peoples” said Calvin Sandborn, the legal director of the Environmental Law Centre at University of Victoria. “From enforcing Indigenous laws to providing the capacity necessary to make ‘informed consent’ decisions about development, Guardians are at the forefront of Reconciliation. It’s time for Canada to invest in a Guardian Network Initiative.”

National Media Contact: Sean Durkan: (613-851-2151)
British Columbia Media Contact: Jenn Wesanko: (604-347-5988)
University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre is a non-profit society that operates Canada’s largest public interest environmental law clinic in partnerships with the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law. The ELC works to provide legal capacity to community organizations, First Nations, and individuals to improve environmental health, and to train the next generation of public interest environmental lawyers.

The BC First Nations Energy & Mining Council is a First Nations non-profit organization with a mandate to support and facilitate First Nation efforts to manage and develop energy and mineral resources in ways that protect and sustain the environment forever while enhancing the social, cultural, economic and political well-being of First Nations in BC. The mandate was established by the BC First Nations Leadership Council and the Chiefs of British Columbia.


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