Indigenous hunters are protecting animals, land and waterways

“They monitor the harvest and decide whether hunting limits should be set”

A storm blows over the Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO/Destination Délįnę)

By Mylène Ratelle
The Conversation

Canada aims to conserve 17 per cent of its land and fresh water by the end of 2020. This noble objective will help protect water, air, food and biodiversity and improve the health of humans.

Indigenous peoples in Canada are a part of this conservation movement. As they hunt, gather and harvest, they also monitor the land to keep it healthy and ensure their traditional activities are preserved. Their efforts to protect the Earth benefit us all.

Initiatives for protected lands

In October 2018, Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada announced the creation of the first Indigenous protected area in Canada. Located in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, Edéhzhíe covers 14,218 square kilometres—more than twice the size of Banff National Park—and protects an area of spiritual and ecological importance to the Dehcho and Tłichô Dene.

It is not the only Indigenous initiative to protect lands. The Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve, created in 2016, protected more than 9,000 square kilometres of land and water.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis have put in place other initiatives too.

These Indigenous groups are interested in protecting the land because their holistic approach to ecosystems will help preserve their traditional way of life.

This holistic approach to conservation is the concept of being “in tune with nature.” It’s a fundamental understanding that although they are human, Dene are part of the environment and the ecosystem.

This concept doesn’t just refer to the nature in the sense of trees, wildlife or the natural processes of an ecosystem, but the nature of reality as a whole, where people have a role in the natural world and have a responsibility to maintain it.

Harvesting wild game is a measured and carefully considered practice. By protecting these lands, traditional ways of life, including language, harvesting and other cultural elements, are maintained for present and future generations.

Harvesting and conservation

Harvesting was the main source of food for Indigenous people for millennia. Even though people living in remote communities now have access to store-bought foods, quality remains an issue. Fresh food is often limited and expensive, and may cost as much as three times the Canadian average.

Camp on the land, Sahtú, Northwest Territories. (Photo courtesy of Mylène Ratelle)

In some northern communities, the rate of food insecurity is alarming and can affect up to 70 per cent of the households.

In the Arctic, the consumption of traditional foods is associated with better nutrition. Hunting is, therefore, associated with healthy living.

Some people, including settlers, those living in cities or involved in the animal-rights communities, may see harvesting and hunting as damaging to the ecosystem. Attacks against seal harvesting are recurrent.

Yet hunting is an integral part of the traditional Indigenous lifestyle and it can occur within protected areas. By hunting, they are also making the commitment to protect the land.

For example, even if harvested local foods such as caribou are subsistence foods in several Indigenous northern nations, some communities have initiated a program to assess how to preserve northern mountain caribou herds and minimize the cultural impact.

They monitor the harvest and decide whether hunting limits should be set. They restrict access to certain lands, educate hunters and ensure protection of caribou habitat. The aim is to establish sustainable hunting and a healthy dynamic between the communities and the animals. This Indigenous perspective on sustainable development and conservation integrates the responsibility to give back.

Indigenous monitoring of the land

Indigenous Guardians are the eyes and ears for the land and water. They patrol a designated area and monitor ecological health, including species at risk and early indicators of climate change such as water levels and landscape changes.

The monitored areas include remote locations where limited observations are available. As such, the science of the land contributes significantly to the overall monitoring strategy and data gathering in the region.

This bottom-up management and conservation approach leads to practical planning by local people who have an interest in the issue. The Indigenous Guardians program contributes to the connections between Indigenous culture and natural environment by using traditional knowledge and science of the land, while increasing the protection of the land.

Remote locations are also subject to resource development such as mining and fracking. The Guardians watch for the potential impacts of these projects, often in collaboration with scholars, to ensure a clean environment for future generations.

Parks Canada acknowledges the contributions Indigenous peoples have made in managing ecosystems and in their traditional knowledge of these ecosystems. Traditional ecological knowledge is generally described as the body of environmental knowledge, practices and beliefs acquired over time and passed down over generations within an Indigenous group. It provides information that is complementary to academic science, supporting, for example, changes in biodiversity or identifying early indicators of climate change.

Read more:
How Indigenous knowledge advances modern science and technology

Not only can these new protected areas improve Indigenous self-governance and stewardship, but they recognize Indigenous peoples’ contributions to ecosystem conservation. Parks Canada endorses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and their acknowledgement of Indigenous rights to use the land is a first step towards decolonization and Indigenization of land use.

These Indigenous-led protected and conserved areas aim to preserve the traditional land and support the conservation of traditional activities that respect the environment.

Everyone should acknowledge the positive impact Indigenous hunting can have on the protection and monitoring of the environment. These efforts benefit all of us in protecting the ecosystem for a healthy environment and healthy people.

Jeffrey Fabian, Yaidih-ih “Eyes Unclouded,” coordinator of the Indigenous Guardian program in the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, in Hay River, NWT, co-authored this article.

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Mylène Ratelle is research manager at the School of Public Health and Health Systems at theUniversity of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Putuguk on

    Canada is the worlds second largest country. Canada’s landmass is 9.985 million km².

    80% of Canada, or 7.988 million km², is un-occupied, and it has been this way since we became a country and were “developed”. In this regard, we are starkly different than other countries that care about things like conservation goals.

    In order for a 17% conservation goal to be helpful towards the preservation of nature in Canada, we would need to be under eminent threat of developing more than an additional 6.291 million km² of our country. This is preposterous.

    This is 3 times more development that has been “achieved” in the past couple of hundred years of continual and unrelenting settler war on nature.

    If we ever reached that point, when we have developed or “used up” 8.288 million km² of land in Canada, we could then say…”hey hold on a sec, we need to keep some nature around here, lets stop developing and leave the remaining 1.697 million km² (17%) as it is”. Way, way before this point, public sentiment would have already put the brakes on.

    Let us not concoct reasons to conserve up here. Conserving land in Canada has zero impact towards sustaining us. Its also not going to help the endangered animals that (surprise surprise!), live where millions of people now live, farm, and log (not here). We are not running out of land. We have run out of a livelihood.

    You want something to help the hunters? Try $300/skin seal price, and a $300/skin fox price. I bet you that could easily be achieved with millions in conservation planning being spent right now.

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