Across Turtle Island (what is currently known as North America), Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) are rightfully being recognized as a solution to climate change and biodiversity loss, while simultaneously providing a path towards Indigenous Nations having their ancestral responsibilities to the Lands and Waters acknowledged and respected through reinstating their sovereignty and jurisdiction over their territories.
The Indigenous Circle of Experts in the We Rise Together report define IPCAs as: “lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an IPCA. IPCAs vary in terms of their governance and management objectives. However, they generally share three essential elements: Indigenous-led, represent a long-term commitment to conservation and elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities.”
IPCAs operate under Indigenous governance, utilizing Natural Law to determine how Land can be used and therefore protected. For example, as highlighted in the We Rise Together report, the Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks came to existence after 70 years of protesting against B.C. clear-cutting of ancient cedar rainforests on Meares Island. The creation of the park was both a method of resistance to the resource extraction and an assertion of Tla-o-qui-aht legal jurisdiction and responsibility to the Land.
If we are committed to protecting our Lands and Waters from continued damage and committed to reconciliation with Indigenous Nations, IPCAs are undoubtedly the path forward we should be choosing. “Our old approaches to protecting nature must evolve as we confront the colonial legacy of conservation,” says Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s director of conservation and education. “IPCAs and other forms of Indigenous-led Conservation are our best hope.
Canada’s historic investment of $2.3 billion in nature conservation will be vital in addressing the “challenges and barriers posed by entrenched colonial systems and processes” as Indigenous Nations work to establish, resource and manage IPCAs. Our collective responsibility to reconciliation requires respecting, acknowledging and working with Indigenous Laws and Indigenous Nations’ jurisdiction in their ancestral and contemporary territories — this is especially true with IPCAs that offer possible partnerships with the governments and conservation organizations.
Heléna Mauti is a graduate student in the Sustainability Studies program at Trent University where she is completing her thesis on Indigenous-Led Conservation which focuses on resurgence and revitalization for Indigenous Nations.