[Witness spoke in Dene Zhatıé and provided the following text:]
Dahti Tsetso suzhe, si Tłı̨chǫ Dene ot'e, Lliidlii Kue gots'eh at'e, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative gogha eghalenga.
[Witness provided the following translation:]
Good evening, all. My name is Dahti Tsetso. I am Tłı̨chǫ Dene from Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, and I work with the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.
I'd like to thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. The subject of this study is an important one, and you all have a unique responsibility to advance the dialogue in a meaningful way. I very much appreciate the opportunity you are creating for indigenous voices to inform your report and the broader conversation around the restitution of lands.
For those of you who don't know, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, or ILI, works to uplift indigenous nations and their voices to honour their responsibility to lands and waters.
From our perspective, indigenous-led conservation and stewardship can and should play a critical role in the path and dialogue towards reconciliation and the restitution of lands. One central example is indigenous protected and conserved areas or IPCAs. These are places that are identified by indigenous nations according to indigenous values and authorities.
The Indigenous Circle of Experts, in their landmark 2018 report, highlighted IPCAs as lands and waters where indigenous governments assert their rights and responsibility to protect and conserve ecosystems through indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an IPCA.
Indigenous guardians are another expression of nationhood that strengthens relationships to land and honours the sacred stewardship responsibility of indigenous peoples. Guardians are nation building and are an opportunity for Canada to work in partnership with indigenous communities across the country.
There are positive returns on the investments in indigenous-led stewardship and guardian programs. Early research in the NWT has shown that, at a minimum, for every dollar invested, there can be a 1:2.5 return on that investment with a potential to go as high as 1:4, and in fact research out of coastal B.C. showcases that this return on investment can be as high as 1:20.
The returns on investment are directly linked to the transformative potential of these programs to have positive, rippling impacts across wide-ranging socio-economic sectors of our communities, such as health, education, governance and reconciliation. I have witnessed and experienced these benefits first-hand.
Critical to moving forward is how indigenous communities are being funded to ensure their leadership in this work in a manner that ensures sustainable outcomes. The innovative financing opportunity under way in the NWT is one example of a new partnership-based tool that can offer part of the solution, but investments by the Government of Canada are essential to success. Addressing ongoing funding in a meaningful way would transform our country.
There is a growing movement of IPCAs and guardians in Canada. In fact, indigenous nations from across the country are gathered here in Ottawa this week to learn and share experiences at the First Nations National Guardians Gathering, co-hosted by ILI and the newly established national network. The energy and excitement are growing and they are evident in that room.
This energy is needed now. It's early May, and we have unprecedented wildfires raging across Alberta. It is evident that nothing less than the future of our communities, the health of our planet and the future viability of our grandchildren are at stake. We need to do better, and that starts by broadening our dialogue to find solutions that benefit all. Indigenous communities and indigenous leadership are key.
The restitution of lands and the indigenous relationship to that land through indigenous-led stewardship offer hope. Canada needs to grow investments to indigenous nations to meet our vision, because, if we value indigenous knowledge and our knowledge systems as a way to sustain the lands and waters we all depend on, then we need to resource them.