New network for Indigenous land guardians welcomed in North

A new First Nations Guardians Network, launched last month, is 'building on momentum' of Indigenous land-stewardship programs across the country, said Dahti Tsetso of Fort Simpson, N.W.T. She is the deputy director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. (Submitted by Dahti Testso - image credit)
A new First Nations Guardians Network, launched last month, is 'building on momentum' of Indigenous land-stewardship programs across the country, said Dahti Tsetso of Fort Simpson, N.W.T. She is the deputy director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. (Submitted by Dahti Testso - image credit)

A new national initiative aimed at helping Indigenous communities protect their lands and water is a "win-win for everyone," according to some northerners.

"It benefits the programs and the communities that they serve, but that benefit and that value grows beyond those communities," said Dahti Tsetso, deputy director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, which supports Indigenous Guardian programs across Canada and in the North. Tsetso has also been director of lands and resources for the Dehcho First Nations in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

Last month, the federal government helped launch the First Nations National Guardians Network. It's meant to "connect First Nations Guardians initiatives across the country, so that Guardians can do more together than on their own," according to a government news release.

Dozens of Indigenous Guardian programs have started in recent years. Their goal is to hire local community members to help monitor and protect sensitive ecological and cultural areas within traditional territories.

The federal government has put $60 million toward more than 170 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Guardians initiatives in the last five years.

Some examples in the North include a wildlife monitoring program focused on the impact of the 97-kilometre Tłı̨chǫ Highway which opened in the N.W.T. in 2021, and an initiative in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut to monitor fish and water quality across 18 different sites.

The new network will help those different initiatives work together and share expertise.

It's about "building on momentum," Tsetso said.

She said the network will allow different Indigenous Guardian programs to "learn from each other and grow and have a way to access resources and funding that is better tailored to their needs."

"It's amazing how much you learn from each other, even just by exchanging stories or exchanging methods or approaches to the work that you're doing."

Network doesn't interfere with autonomy of communities

Gillian Staveley, a member of the National Guardians Network Council and a member of the Kaska Dena in Yukon, said there are now 120 guardian programs across the country, "which is a lot considering five years ago there was only 30."

She said one of the most important things about the new national network is that it recognizes the autonomy of individual communities.

"They define the mandate and the priorities of what the Guardian programs are working on — so the network doesn't interfere with that nationhood," Staveley said.

"But across the country, First Nations do hold common values and it's really centred, I think, on that strong stewardship ethic that we hold as as Indigenous peoples."

Submitted by Gillian Staveley
Submitted by Gillian Staveley

Staveley says one of the goals of the new network is to create a "one-window approach" for Guardian programs to apply for funding from different government ministries, reducing delays and red tape.

She also says it will help provide recognition and stability for land stewardship work over the long term.

"It would be my hope that my children will be able to grow up to have a career in land guardianship — and that's really why we're doing this work," she said.

Tsetso agrees and says it's all about building on the health and well-being of communities.

"The research shows that the return on the investment into these programs is very positive," Tsetso said.

"And just like Gillian, I would love to see my own children grow up to be Guardians one day."