Group hopes federal budget will launch Indigenous guardians' network across Canada

Group hopes federal budget will launch Indigenous guardians' network across Canada

A national non-profit is hoping next week's federal budget creates a network of Indigenous guardians across Canada.

In October of last year, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative asked Ottawa for funding totalling $500 million over five years to set up the network.

If successful, up to 1,600 First Nations people — including many from Northern communities — would be hired to act as paid protectors and monitors of their traditional lands. Existing local projects and a similar Australian initiative have been used as models.

March 22's budget will reveal how much, if any, funding the project has secured — and whether funding may come at the expense of other programs.

"We've had over 100 meetings with officials at all levels, with all parties, and systematically we've heard that this is a great idea," said Valerie Courtois, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative's executive director.

"Now it's up to them to figure out how much they want to invest.

"We're very hopeful that we'll have the federal government come in and at least give us some funding upon which we can build a national program. All indications are that they will be doing that."

Respect and preservation

Both the Mining Association of Canada and Boreal Leadership Council have committed to supporting the project.

In December, Pierre Gratton — president and chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada — penned an editorial calling on the federal government to help "contribute to sustainable mineral development [and] support Canada's reconciliation efforts" with funding.

Several dozen smaller initiatives already perform similar work in Canada, including the Ni Hat'ni Dene (Dene Watchers of the Land) program in Lutselke.

This proposal seeks to create a broader network of 200 or more programs, each monitoring wildlife, patrolling protected areas and working to reduce the impacts of climate change.

A study published in November claimed N.W.T. communities with guardian programs reported less crime, more respect from non-Indigenous community members, and better preservation of their traditional language and culture.

Courtois explained her group's proposal for a new network during Wednesday's presentations at a pan-territorial On The Land Summit being held in Dettah, N.W.T.

The summit concludes on Thursday with a discussion of how on-the-land programs are best evaluated.