PRESS RELEASE: British Columbia First Nations call for action toward Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

by | Sep 3, 2021

Indigenous groups in British Columbia, Canada are poised to advance globally significant Indigenous Protected Areas, however are not receiving the support necessary from sub-national government

September 5, 2021 – Indigenous People in British Columbia, Canada are working hard to develop solutions to the global climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and to advance equity for indigenous peoples.  We want to bring global attention to some of the Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA’s) proposed by First Nations in British Columbia.  These IPCA’s are consistent with the Canadian commitments to protect 30% of the Canadian terrestrial territory by 2030. 

  • Support for these IPCA’s for the sub-national government is not manifesting, even though the Province of B.C. has made a commitment to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Through the Rocky Mountain Cordillera, the spine of North America, and one of the greatest wildlife corridors and refuges on Earth, Indigenous Peoples are advancing and proposing large scale conservation projects of global significance.
  • We need the Province of British Columbia to support these proposals, and other Indigenous-led conservation efforts
  • These IPCA’s have global significance and the world should be aware of the lack of provincial government support for Indigenous-led conservation in British Columbia, home to old growth forests, the iconic species of mountain caribou, and some of the most diverse biodiversity in Canada.

“These projects have the potential to help meet the international and national goals for significantly increasing the amount of the earth which is conserved. The Province of BC needs to support these First Nations in their calls for indigenous conservation in their territories,” says Estella White, Lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law.

Over the last few years, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Kaska Dena have been advancing conservation in their traditional territories.  They are in agreement this is an important assertion of indigenous sovereignty in B.C and Canada that supports necessary global efforts for large landscape conservation. Recent commitments by the Province of B.C. to abide by and legislate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has been an important step towards improved justice and equity for indigenous peoples in B.C.. However, while the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Kaska Dena have been advocating for their IPCA’s, B.C. remains non-committal and negotiations on these two proposals have yet to begin.

There is an example of partnership towards conservation, the West Moberly First Nations and the Saulteau First Nations were to sign a Partnership Agreement with the Province of B.C. and the Government of Canada to increase protected areas in their territory. This was a success after a long negotiation buoyed by the federal government and with reluctant participation by the Province of B.C.

This Partnership Agreement signed between the parties should serve as a model for other negotiated agreements but B.C. is not enthusiastic to repeat this type of project because they fear other constituents backlash, even though the majority of B.C. residents support indigenous-led conservation.   After the IPCA proposal were submitted to Canada for consideration in 2018-19, B.C. reaffirmed that it did not have a mandate to negotiate indigenous-led conservation. 

“Indigenous communities are preparing, planning and leading on Canada’s agenda for 30 by 30. We hope that B.C. can support all of us to work quickly to allow these areas to be used for mitigation of climate change, protection and restoration of biodiversity and for critical indigenous knowledge transmission” says Lauren Terbasket of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB). (Canada is one of the countries that joined the High Ambition Coalition and made the pledge for 30 by 30 – hacfornatureandpeople.org)

LSIB has been working for over 20 years to preserve the ” siwɬkʷ (waters), tmxʷulaxʷ (lands) and tmixʷ (four sacred life-force systems) of the nxʷəlxʷəltantət (South Okanagan – Similkameen) region of British Columbia  in the form of a National Park Reserve. The National Park Reserve itself is a relatively small area (273 square km) and will protect parts of “Canada’s biodiversity hotspot”, however the community members, elders and knowledge holders have called for 227,000 additional ha to be protected. These areas are planned to managed through indigenous methodologies and will see improved ecosystem function.

LSIB’s territory is overlain by provincially tenured mining and logging claims.  LSIB currently receives very little benefit from these activities on the land, certainly much less than both the resources companies and the province. The province is reluctant to reconsider existing tenures, even though, with the recognition of aboriginal Title and Rights as described by UNDRIP, these territorial lands would be recognized as indigenous lands. In 1910, the LSIB, with other First Nations sent a policy statement to the Canadian Government stating that they would share the land with the newcomers.  This policy intention, the Laurier Memorial, still stands today and if honoring UNDRIP, BC and Canada should recognize and incorporate this indigenous policy, BC needs to work to align its polices with the Laurier Memorial.

In the Okanagan Indian Band IPCA proposed area, the Southern Mountain Caribou, a critical species at risk, is in danger and the Okanagan Indian Band has  a proposal for protection and management of caribou habitat, old growth, and other biodiversity in the headwaters of the Columbia River. Despite the best efforts of Indigenous peoples and other conversation groups, the Province of British Columbia has indicated it does not need to substantially increase habitat based protection for the species.

Meanwhile, the Kaska Dena are asking the government to work jointly with them to ensure their ancestral territory does not suffer from the devastating impact of climate change and biodiversity loss that has so far been happening across British Columbia, Canada, and the world. Their work will continue to shelter caribou, a species that is struggling to feed itself and breed within B.C. The Kaska Dena proposal will ensure that conservation will sustain and create economic opportunities for indigenous peoples and northern communities, preserve Kaska peoples’ material, cultural, and spiritual lives and become a world-class protected area for all people to explore and enjoy.

British Columbia residents are in support of these IPCA’s

From a 2020 poll done by Stratcom for The International Boreal Conservation Campaign and the Indigenous Leadership Initiative:

  • 67% of people support the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in BC. 
  • 69% support funding and investment in Indigenous stewardship as part of the government’s economic recovery measures.
  • From a list of potential types of activities within Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, support is highest for tourism such as canoeing and guide-outfitting (80%). There is also majority support for conservation (70%), expansion of Indigenous Guardians programs (67%) and hunting, fishing and trapping (59%).
  • 76% agree that land-use planning could help reduce conflicts over pipelines, dams and other such developments.

B.C. is in receipt of numerous First Nations IPCA proposals to which it has not committed. The world cannot wait much longer to begin to have these proposals implemented.  B.C. needs to ensure that it is living up to its commitments to First Nations through UNDRIP and works with Canada and First Nations to achieve the target of 30% conservation by 2030.  B.C. First Nations are willing partners in this endeavour and we call upon British Columbia to show leadership and work with us for the benefit of the world.

For further comment please contact:

Gwen Bridge

Gwen Bridge Consulting Ltd.
250.826.2265

gwen@gwenbridge.com

 Media assets:

Photos, videos, partnership agreement, Kaska Dena proposal, LSIB IPCA information are available on gwenbridge.com/IUCN.

Background and additional information: