[Witness speaks in Dene]
I'm happy today to be here with you again. On behalf of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, I'd like to say how grateful we are for the opportunity to share the knowledge base that we've accumulated and the work that we've been doing in the last number of years in getting Thaidene Nene to the point it's at today.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to see you in Lutsel K'e this summer, but hopefully we will see you next summer, when we celebrate the creation of Thaidene Nene for Canada's 150th birthday. That's the goal shared by Lutsel K'e and Parks Canada, and according to the Government of the Northwest Territories, it shares that same goal as well.
The last time I was here I made a presentation. The committee asked me to elaborate on that presentation, so I'll present the elaboration that we've put together for you.
On May 5, 2016, Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation outlined our vision for Thaidene Nene as our initiative to foster ecological integrity, cultural continuity, and economic sustainability in the core of our homeland at the east arm of Great Slave Lake, NWT. As caretakers of Thaidene Nene, we believe that we have the responsibility to protect this land for our future generations, and to celebrate and share Thaidene Nene with all Canadians. We noted that our vision for Thaidene Nene is informed by our understanding of our peace and friendship relationship with the crown.
We approach the protection and management of Thaidene Nene as an opportunity to build a nation-to-nation relationship between our governments, with Canada and Lutsel K'e each bringing to the table their respective expertise and responsibilities. We seek to share our world-class culture and landscape, and a heritage that is critical to our way of life as indigenous people and indeed to all Canadians.
We contrasted this approach with the way that protected areas in Canada have historically been established—only under the auspices of crown legislation and authority. We noted that past crown actions to establish parks or undertake on-the-land conservation programs have resulted in, at worst, the alienation of indigenous peoples from their traditional territories, and at best, limited opportunities for jobs working for another government.
In this presentation I would like to further outline the best practices for protected area establishment and management, which I believe are represented in the Thaidene Nene model. I would also like to make recommendations to the standing committee on how Canada can build on this precedent and others, such as the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in Haida Gwaii.
First, recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples to designate and manage their own protected areas and conservation plans—broadly, indigenous protected areas within our traditional territories.
Second, include indigenous protected areas within a national conservation network. This network would recognize the contributions that indigenous people are making to the long-term protection and stewardship of national and international ecological and cultural values, and to the realization of national and international conservation targets, including the Aichi targets.
Third, acknowledge indigenous peoples' responsibility for ecological and cultural values by implementing co-governance arrangements for the management of federally protected areas.
Fourth, support sustainable livelihoods and protected area operations by fostering indigenous guardians programs, such as the coastal guardian watchmen network or our own Ni Hat'ni rangers, through funding and other partnerships.
I would like to build on my statement about how indigenous and local land use strengthens and supports conservation objectives. In our tradition, Dene are expected to be self-sufficient on the land, and we believe that others should be able to support themselves in the same way.
There is a long history of newcomers to our territories adopting our ways of living and travelling on the land. From the snowshoe to the canoe to the dog team and beyond, these traditional skills are becoming part of the Canadian identity.
In our view, these activities are what create and sustain the fundamental relationship between people and the land and create the basis for reciprocity and respect. Rather than thinking of protected areas as fortresses that separate nature from people, we think of them as places where people can once again be at home. Places like Thaidene Nene are conservation landscapes in which our deep cultural knowledge can be given contemporary relevance in informing Canadians and connecting them to our north. Our community will provide Canadians with human connections, local context, and historical depth for visitor experiences.
I was previously asked by the standing committee about the idea of a national conservation body that would bring together federal, municipal, and indigenous peoples to work together on a whole-of-Canada approach to conservation. I am broadly supportive of such an idea, but I believe that it must be built from the ground up, using a nation-to-nation approach in which the crown and indigenous governments recognize the contributions that each has made to conservation.
I will say that indigenous contributions have largely gone unrecognized in Canada, in a system that still recognizes only federally, provincially, and territorially legislated protected areas as valid and ignores the fact that for tens of thousands of years our peoples managed the land so well that you thought it was empty. We need to move past those misconceptions and embrace the fact that long before Canadians even knew what a national park was, our peoples were successfully protecting and managing our special places under our own laws and using our own knowledge.
This needs to change. Thaidene Nene will recognize the responsibility and capacity of both governments and both peoples, but we need to bring that to a national level and integrate that kind of thinking into a national network. We view this as a critical contribution on the path toward reconciliation between indigenous peoples and Canada.
In terms of new models for establishment, the standing committee also asked my views on how the federal government should work with indigenous people to negotiate the establishment of new protected areas, especially in light of the 2014 Supreme Court decision of Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia.
I believe that it is most important to understand that decision as a guide to renewing Canada's sense of itself as a federation based on the recognition of indigenous peoples, our lands, and our laws. Fundamentally, it is not about consultation or accommodation, but about recognition of the historical and contemporary fact that indigenous peoples retain aboriginal title to a significant portion of our traditional territories, and with such title, the rights to govern how our lands are used and to the benefits that flow from them.
Fundamentally, the division of the powers of the crown within federal, provincial, and territorial governments must now be reconciled with the constitutional recognition of indigenous jurisdictions over lands and resources. When it comes to the establishment of new protected areas, this means recognizing that indigenous jurisdictions exist, and that the model of negotiating agreements is no longer consultation about something that Canada is proposing to do under its authority, but rather nation-to-nation, government-to-government discussion about collaborating to achieve a common conservation objective, using the powers and authorities of both indigenous and crown governments.
This shared model of jurisdiction and intergovernmental co-operation is commonplace in Canada between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, so should pose few conceptual challenges.
What will be required are new approaches to implementation. Here again, the idea of federal recognition of indigenous protected areas, or IPAs, is the foundation for a new approach. Fundamentally, the starting place for an IPA must be self-determination by the indigenous peoples themselves, but once declared, IPAs become the basis for building effective partnerships between indigenous and public governments and other entities, including NGOs, research institutions, and the philanthropic community.
While these ideas are new in Canada, they are being applied around the world. There are now hundreds of internationally recognized IPAs, with Australia having the most advanced system with over 70 dedicated indigenous protected areas across 65 million hectares and accounting for more than 40% of Australia's protected areas.
The indigenous leadership initiative has noted that Canada could adapt key features of the Australian system to our context. Canada must recognize that IPAs are designated and managed by indigenous governments or organizations but can be advanced collaboratively through management plans developed in partnership with, or with input from, public governments and other organizations. Integrating IPAs as part of a federally coordinated, national conservation network of protected areas protects ecological and cultural diversity, and contributes to the realization of national and international commitments, including the 2020 Aichi targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Canada can also support IPAs through multi-year funding agreements by the federal government, supplemented by fee for service and other income-generating activities, as well as by private and philanthropic donors.
Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation supports these recommendations and calls for a national program to support indigenous guardians in our communities. Such a program should take a whole-of-government approach by integrating current departmental initiatives such as the DFO fisheries guardians and the Canadian Rangers ocean watch, CROW, program with a coherent federal program directed at building capacity within indigenous communities, supporting guardian operations, and building external partnerships.
The Standing Committee expressed interest in our views on how negotiations toward protected area establishments should proceed in contexts where there are overlapping land claims.
I want to say at the outset that the idea of overlapping land claims is an artifact of Canada's policies, and is not an idea that fits indigenous context. Historically, every indigenous nation understood itself in relation to its own lands and territories, and to those of its neighbours. It is only as a consequence of colonization that these understandings have been undermined as our institutions were systematically dismantled and replaced with lines on other people's maps.
This does not mean that each nation lived in a watertight compartment. We shared certain lands and resources with our neighbours in accordance with our laws and in many cases under treaties that we concluded between ourselves and neighbouring nations. There were protocols that were followed and consequences that would ensue if they were not. These arrangements are reflected in the doctrines of aboriginal title as articulated by the Supreme Court, which speaks to exclusivity but recognizes that in some cases some lands were shared.
In the present context many of these understandings have been undermined. Much of the undermining has been done by Canada through policies that have encouraged competition rather than collaboration between our peoples by picking winners for its own purposes, including parks establishment. This needs to change. Canada can promote solutions to these problems by resourcing discussions between indigenous nations, and where necessary, enabling reference to dispute resolution tribunals or ultimately to the courts in cases where such matters cannot be resolved between the nations themselves.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation believes, based on our experience with Thaidene Nene, that Canada can make important advances toward reconciliation and conservation by working with indigenous governments that intend to implement indigenous protected areas and indigenous guardians programs.
We believe that these models must unfold on a nation-to-nation basis and in accordance with the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. Canada has an opportunity to advance conservation in a manner that respects and maintains the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities and accords with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and our own treaties and Constitution, to recognize and affirm the rights of indigenous peoples as the basis for a meaningful and enduring partnership.
With that, I thank the committee for its time.