The Canadian Government has taken steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous Nations for its history of assimilationist and exclusionary policies towards Indigenous people. Though the precise meaning of reconciliation can be hard to pin down, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada broadly defines it as “an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in Canada see conservation as one realm where reconciliation, often criticized for being a buzzword with little tangible impact, might be made real.
“The conservation sector, which is land-based, is a good place to articulate what [reconciliation] means,” said Steven Nitah, an Indigenous thought leader and former Chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. “It allows all parties… to take the best of both knowledge systems that we have and use that knowledge system to manage these spaces in the spirit of reconciliation.”
One precedent-setting example is Thaidene Nëné, a 14,000-square-kilometer national reserve park in the Northwest Territories created in August of 2019 that is co-managed by the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and the Canadian government. The initial proposal to create a National Park there in the 1970s failed to gain the consent of the Lutsel K’e Dene due to concerns over how the park would effect the community’s harvesting lifestyle. Within the new framework, the Dine community of Lutsel K’e remains within the reserve and shares responsibilities with the federal and provincial government for managing and protecting their homeland.
“The boldest and most ambitious conservation proposals in Canada are coming from Indigenous nations,” said Nitah, who led negotiations for the creation of Thaidene Nëné.
Other examples where Indigenous-led governance is in progress include the 64,000-square-kilometer Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, the 29,040-square-kilometer Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario, and the proposed 109,000-square-kilometer Tallurutiup Imanga in Nunavut, which is slated to become the largest protected area in Canada.