Supporting resurgent Indigenous-led governance: A nascent mechanism for just and effective conservation

Conservation efforts to safeguard biodiversity and mitigate ecological destruction could be advanced through partnerships with, and leadership of, resurgent Indigenous governments.

Three maps of human populations especially Indigenous communities, overlaid on a photo of mountains and waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.

A new publication discusses how conservation actions to halt biodiversity declines will increasingly be impossible to implement without Indigenous consent and leadership. It also finds that in many cases a resurgence in Indigenous governance can increase both the scale and effectiveness of biodiversity protections. 

In addition to the imperative of recognizing Indigenous rights, title, and responsibilities, the authors also describe how state-level governments often have difficulty effectively managing conservation areas, including those that are distant from large urban centres. These same ‘remote’ areas are home to hundreds of Indigenous communities that are well positioned to continue (or resume) stewardship activities.

Indigenous communities also have in-depth knowledge of their lands and seas, and millennia of precedence of stewarding them. 

This new open access study, “Supporting resurgent Indigenous-led stewardship: a nascent mechanism for just and effective conservation”, was published in Biological Conservation by a team of scholars and conservation practitioners from the University of Victoria, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, University of Guelph, Qqs Projects Society, and Dalhousie University investigated the role of Indigenous governance in halting ongoing biodiversity declines.

Examples of how to support Indigenous governance

How best to support Indigenous governance will vary by region and context. Some examples provided by the authors include: 

  • states incorporating concepts such as Free, Prior, and Informed Consent into legal and regulatory processes; 
  • citizens holding countries accountable to obligations set out under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other country- or regional-level obligations; and, 
  • funders supporting Indigenous governance and stewardship programs, such as Guardian Watchmen, as well as activities typically seen as being beyond the scope of conservation (e.g. language and cultural programs) but that are central to effective place-based stewardship.

Citation

Artelle K, M Zurba, J Bhattacharyya, DE Chan, K Brown, J Housty & F Moola. Supporting resurgent Indigenous-led governance: A nascent mechanism for just and effective conservation. Biolog. Cons. 240: 108284. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108284

Abstract

Substantial increases in the pace, scale, and effectiveness of conservation will be required to abate the ongoing loss of global biodiversity and simultaneous ecological degradation. Concurrently, the need for conservation to respect inherent human rights, including the rights and title of Indigenous Peoples, is increasingly recognized. Here, we describe the often overlooked role that resurgent Indigenous-led governance could have in driving rapid, socially just increases in conservation. Whereas Indigenous resurgence spans all aspects of governance, we focus on three aspects that highlight both the necessity and nascent potential of supporting resurgent Indigenous-led governance systems as they relate to conservation of lands and seas. Firstly, much of the landscapes and seascapes of conservation interest are within Indigenous territories, so augmenting conservation within them will increasingly not be possible, justified, nor legal without Indigenous consent and partnership. Secondly, resurgent Indigenous governance provides potential for rapidly increasing the spatial coverage of conserved areas. Thirdly, resurgent Indigenous governance provides potential for increased conservation effectiveness. We focus on Canada, a country disproportionately composed of globally significant intact ecosystems and other ecosystems with considerable ecological value, comprised of Indigenous territories, and where Indigenous governments are well-positioned to advance meaningful conservation at a large scale. We discuss broader implications, with Indigenous territories covering large swaths of the globe, including in all five countries (Canada, USA, Australia, Brazil, Russia) whose borders contain the majority of the world’s remaining intact landscapes. We offer suggestions for supporting resurgent Indigenous governance to achieve biodiversity conservation that is effective and socially just.

Select figures

Figure 2

State-recognized Indigenous lands in Canada (left), vs. Indigenous territories as described at Native-land.ca (right). State-recognized lands are derived from “Aboriginal Lands of Canada Legislative Boundaries” dataset and include reserves, land claim settlement lands, and Indian Lands.
Fig. 2. State-recognized Indigenous lands in Canada (left), vs. Indigenous territories as described at Native-land.ca (right). State-recognized lands are derived from “Aboriginal Lands of Canada Legislative Boundaries” dataset and include reserves, land claim settlement lands, and Indian Lands. Territories from native-land.ca represent ‘traditional territories’, including overlap areas that fall within the territorial boundaries of more than one nation, with each territory appearing as a different colour. Disclaimer from native-land.ca: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community.” Visit native-land.ca for the most up-to-date version. Light grey areas represent land beyond Canada’s borders.

Affiliations

  • Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria Canada
  • Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney Canada
  • School for Resource and Environmental Studies and the College of Sustainability, Dalhousie University, Halifax Canada
  • School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria Canada
  • Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, Bella Bella Canada
  • Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, University of Guelph, Guelph Canada

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