NEWS: Around the Arctic February 22, 2017 - 7:00 am

Advisor to INAC minister pitches “Indigenous Protected Areas”

"A conservation paradigm shift in the Arctic”


Territorial governments, the federal government and Indigenous organizations should look at the idea of creating “Indigenous Protected Areas,” Mary Simon, a special advisor to Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett, said in an interim report made public on Feb. 17.

Simon, who was named Bennett’s special representative on Arctic leadership in August 2016, devoted most of her interim report to conservation—even though that’s not what most northerners wanted to discuss with her.

“I want to caution you that conservation was not what the majority of northerners I spoke to wanted to talk about first,” Simon said in the report.

That’s because “Arctic peoples and their representative organizations and governments are far more preoccupied with issues related to supporting strong families, communities and building robust economies,” Simon said.

Notwithstanding all that, Simon kept the focus of her first report on conservation and said she’ll deal with those social and economic issues in a second report.

One of the highlights of that report is a recommendation that Canada look at what policy and legal measures would be required to create a new conservation concept: Indigenous Protected Areas.

She doesn’t suggest where such areas could be created, but she said these would be designed to, “accommodate and support Indigenous interests” and could be managed jointly by Indigenous peoples and governments.

“I am of the mind that there is a distinctive moment building where the right leadership could spark a conservation paradigm shift in the Arctic,” Simon said.

She said some informal examples of this kind of protected area include Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand and the Gwaii Haanas national park reserve and national marine conservation area reserve in northwest British Columbia.

And she said Canada could become the first country in the world to create, “a legal mechanism to formally recognize Indigenous Protected Areas.”

In other parts of her report, Simon urges the federal government to move ahead on creating a marine protected area at Lancaster Sound, where the Qikiqtani Inuit Association has proposed expanding the boundary to add 109,000 square kilometres to the proposed marine park.

Simon also said that Pikialasorsuaq, also known as the North Water Polynya, between Canada and Greenland, “seems well positioned to become a candidate for a new marine conservation initiative between Greenland and Canada.”

In other recommendations she said:

• the new “Arctic leadership model” announced jointly by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, in March 2016 must include the active involvement of Arctic peoples;

• on Arctic issues, “cross-government action” is a must, meaning different departments, agencies and organizations have to work together;

• the infrastructure gap between the Arctic and the South must be closed, especially in reducing diesel dependency, improving marine transportation, closing the digital divide and fixing the housing shortage;

• education is the key—and she recommended using the 2011 National Strategy on Inuit Education; and,

• the establishment of an Arctic university in Canada should serve all four regions of Inuit Nunangat;

If oil and gas development goes ahead, regulate it according to science based standards and involve northern governments and Indigenous organizations, she said.

The federal government web page that presents Simon’s report said Simon’s advice to Bennett reflects her own views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Canada.

Her consultations included meetings with Indigenous organizations across the North, federal cabinet ministers, mining and transportation companies, territorial premiers and non-governmental environmental organizations.

Her second report is likely to be submitted by the end of March this year. You can find her interim report and other information at this link.