Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the standing committee for inviting us to contribute to the study regarding the development of a national conservation plan, hereafter referred to as NCP. Harry Bombay, executive director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, NAFA, sends his regrets.
My name is Bradley Young and I am the senior policy adviser for NAFA. Also, I am a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation, Kichi Sipi Aski, otherwise referred to as the Ottawa area.
First, here is a little background on NAFA. We are a non-governmental organization, first nation controlled, focused on research and advocacy activities in the forest sector. We advocate for the policy frameworks that will address aboriginal rights, values, and interests, which will lead to a more equitable creation and sharing of benefits from the vast forest resources of the land we call Canada.
Given economic realities, increasingly this means a reconceptualization of the broad forest sector. And conservation has been a noticeable component of this for some time, especially when contextualized with first nations engagement.
From what we have seen to date, first nations in the forest approach this under the umbrella of forest stewardship, implying both economic activity and conservation.
Prospectively, as climate change, economic development, sustainability, and multiple visions of prosperity increasingly converge on the same forested land base, a well thought out, discussed, and resourced NCP could potentially play a constructive coordination role here, if the right peoples have a meeting of minds.
Considering that the federal government has constitutional responsibility for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians”, and that most of first nations communities are located in our forests, creating the conditions for aboriginal forest-based development should be a priority. The new federal framework for aboriginal economic development does not reflect this. As the NCP takes shape and potentially impacts the forested aboriginal home and treaty land, oversight in this same manner should be avoided, especially given Canada's pending and current status to various binding international conventions regarding the environment, development, biological diversity, human rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples.
For example, article 8 of the Convention on Biological Diversity states that each nation will establish protected areas with the involvement and consent of indigenous peoples, including equitable sharing of any benefits arising from all related activities.
What have first peoples in Canada done with forest stewardship that speaks to proactive engagement with conservation?
In 2007 NAFA calculated first nations land management totals of 5.5 million hectares, including federal reserves and provincial lands under forest management tenures held by first nations. When considered with gains under innovative conservation approaches, large additional land bases flowing from first nations traditional territories are apparent. Take two of the most emblematic stewardship conservation initiatives of the past decade: the Great Bear rainforest in B.C., at 6.4 million hectares; and the Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario, at 4.3 million hectares. Through these efforts, 10.7 million hectares of first-nations-led or co-managed forest territory has been gained since our 2007 study.
Thus, the total for lands under first nations management in 2012 would be 16.2 million hectares, a significant gain of 294%. This is equivalent to 162,000 square kilometres, roughly the size of Ireland and Scotland combined.
It is clear that conservation initiatives led by first nations have advanced sustainable forest management practices by codifying modifications to existing forestry and natural resource development. Traditional forestry activity is being tailored to meet aboriginal interests, and sensitive biological, spiritual, and traditional uses are being prioritized. The planning and management of these areas, while including non-aboriginal voices, is mediated by first nations representation and secured by sustainable funding generated by trusts controlled by first nations.
Conservation under this approach minimizes the spectre of conservation refugees, whereby lands are conserved and indigenous and local people are restricted or expelled from their homelands for new fortress parks.
From our perspective, the “wilderness protection at any cost” ideology is not sound policy. Many elders the world over call the fortress conservation approach “protecting the land to death”. Why? Take indigenous people out of the equation and the land base either atrophies to an ecologically less dynamic state or it gets overrun by various unsustainable practices.
In fact, since the first exclusionary parks were created 120 years ago under the fortress conservation ideology, biodiversity and/or ecological performance have actually declined in these areas when compared to ancestral indigenous ecological outcomes before demarcation. It is an empirical, scientific, and historical fact that indigenous land management practices have, on balance, resulted in the protection, with indigenous cohabitation and usage, of over 95% of the world's last biodiversity hotspots.
Circling back to economics, which in Canada to a large degree is really about humans interacting with natural resources in the forest, first nations again are updating this ancient sensibility. For example, the Whitefeather Forest initiative in Ontario includes an innovative bioeconomic forestry enterprise and also establishes first nations management responsibility for the forest, including numerous sensitive sites identified by traditional knowledge holders.
On a broader national basis, many other communities are accounting for and planning to harness the value of ecological services maintained on their traditional forested lands. This includes carbon trading, water storage and supply, and various ventures counting on rich, intact biodiversity capital. Also, markets for non-timber forest products such as maple syrup, wild rice, and a growing number of confections and herbal remedies continue to develop, albeit slowly. And last but not least, hunting, fishing, and trapping in the forest continue to play emblematic roles in most communities and enjoy constitutional protections.
With continuing downward pressure on traditional forest enterprises and such significant gains coming from regional conservation initiatives, it is clear that first nations investing limited time and resources into forest sector development have discrete paths before them when analyzing potential initiatives in the bush. Strategic economic development, complementary conservation management, traditional activities, and implementation partnerships appear to be the broad trajectory of this promising path. Some are doing it all, yet others mix and match, and still others focus on just one activity.
Additionally, there are other coordination and applicability crossovers. With over $500 billion of other natural resource development projected for the coming decades, significant convergent pressures are apparent. Most of this development will be in the forest, but will not necessarily be forestry. Respectively, first nations are actively engaged on multiple fronts, assessing, negotiating, confronting, confounding, advancing, modifying, and/or participating in the numerous projects planned or under way, on top of considering aboriginal conservation initiatives.
Thus an overlapping field of vision is in place, again, all largely taking place in the forests of Canada—our defining national feature and internationally recognized treasure.
In response to this we are developing a national first nations natural resource development map to provide context and scope to this dynamic story. It will be built upon the same utilitarian excellence of our reports on forest tenures in Canada, updated to current digital realities.
Within this space, while not as high profile as some other sectors, the aboriginal forest sector is an important segment of the economy where aboriginal people are gaining prominence. Through land claim settlements and increased access to provincial forest tenures, aboriginal people now have access to forest resources over a significant land base of over 16.2 million hectares through over 300 sui generis agreements with an aggregate volume of over 14 million cubic metres in annual allowable cut.
We are harvesting approximately only a third of this. It is our contention that new markets must be opened up, sectorally supported, and invested in to realize shared prosperity here. Importantly, these themes do not have to collide with conservation. Progressively, in the eyes of many, they can mutually support each other under a first nations stewardship ethic.
In closing, to advance the national conservation program, we feel that policy and programming development and investment are needed in the following areas: the aboriginal forest sector, including the investigation of innovative conservation arrangements; and national-level first nations dialogues, with the participation of national, provincial-territorial, and community organizations, leadership, and sectoral experts.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.