'A significant step forward': Northern Indigenous groups praise $800M from feds for conservation

Jackson Lafferty is the Tłı̨chǫ grand chief. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Jackson Lafferty is the Tłı̨chǫ grand chief. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The federal government will spend up to $800 million on four Indigenous-led conservation projects, including projects in the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made the announcement Wednesday, said each of the projects is unique because they are designed by the communities themselves.

Trudeau told reporters the exact details of the agreements have yet to be worked out, including which portions of the lands will be shielded from resource extraction.

The Indigenous partners, he said, will be able to decide which lands need to be completely protected and where there can be "responsible, targeted development."

"We know we need jobs, we know we need protected areas, we know we need economic development," he said. "And nobody knows that, and the importance of that balance, better than Indigenous communities themselves that have been left out of this equation, not just in Canada but around the world, for too long."

In the Northwest Territories, the funding will help protect boreal forests, rivers and lands across the territory. Though details on the N.W.T. project haven't been released yet, it involves 30 Indigenous governments and organizations in the territory, according to a press release from the federal government.

Jackson Lafferty, the grand chief of the Tłı̨chǫ government, said Wednesday that his government has worked to protect land and water over the years, but has lacked "sufficient resources to get the job done."

The federal announcement, he added, "is a significant step forward — a path forward to reconciliation across Canada."

"It will entrust the Indigenous people across Canada with the resources, the tools that they need to achieve their dream or their vision of our land protection [and] conservation now, and also into the future," he said.

"This has the potential to improve the wellbeing of our people across our great North and our Canada, move us forward on the path toward reconciliation."

As for Nunavut, funds will go to an Inuit-led project involving waters and land in the Qikiqtani region

A news release from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association noted it will build on its regional conservation model, the Nauttiqsuqtiit program, which is already being implemented in five communities and provides Inuit jobs as environmental stewards and harvesters.

George Quviq Qulaut, the chief negotiator for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, said his generation has seen the environment and wildlife change rapidly in a short period of time, demonstrating the need to take action. He said the association is looking to manage nearly 1 million square kilometres of marine environment.

"This is a great moment for all Canadians," he said of the federal announcement. "Our work will result in tangible improvements in quality of life in our region."

The federal announcement did not say how much money will go to each project, or provide a year-by-year breakdown of how the $800 million will be doled out over seven years.

The two other projects to be funded are a marine conservation and sustainability initiative in the Great Bear Sea along British Columbia's north coast, championed by 17 First Nations in the area; and a project in western James Bay to protect the world's third-largest wetland, led by the Omushkego Cree in Ontario.

Trudeau made the announcement as he attended a UN meeting on global biodiversity, known as COP15, in Montreal.