Australian indigenous people meet with Lutsel K’e to share conservation stories
On Oct. 30-31, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation hosted a delegation of indigenous peoples from Australia. Representing the indigenous land councils in the Central and Kimberley regions of Australia, the delegates came to the Northwest Territories to share their experiences in protecting their lands and waters using their own traditional governance models. These are “indigenous protected areas”.
Our Australian guest spoke of their struggle to finally achieve recognized sovereignty in their traditional territories, and how they now jointly manage and operate protected areas in partnership with the Government of Australia. This is a significant step that has not yet been taken by the Government of Canada. In Canada, protected areas largely remain under the “command and control” of the state. There is much to be learned from the Australian experience, where indigenous management of protected areas is recognized globally as not only effective, but as a means to reconcile and heal from a negative colonial legacy.
The indigenous Australians spoke especially of the success of their Ranger programs, where experienced land-users work to actively manage the land – fighting fires, knocking back invasive species, conducting research and monitoring, and so forth. Currently, there are approximately 700 full-time Rangers in the indigenous protected areas in Australia, and demand to increase this number is high. The Ranger program has been tremendously successful in not only providing meaningful local employment to indigenous peoples, but has also reduced government spending in other sectors such as health, social services, justice, and training. Simply put, the Ranger program has greatly contributed to the building of healthier indigenous communities along with protecting important landscapes.
In Thaidene Nene, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation is attempting to achieve what has already been done elsewhere – joint management and operation of a protected area, with a robust on-the-land stewardship program in place. For us, this is the Ni hat’ni Dene Program (“Watchers of the Land”).
Speaking with the indigenous Australians gave us confidence that our vision for Thaidene Nene is achievable, and that similar initiatives are paying off significant social and economic dividends in other parts of the world.