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13 going on 30 at COP15

The Seal River Watershed Alliance in northern Manitoba is the latest example of the rise of Indigenous guardians programs, which will be critical if Canada wants to achieve its 30 by 30 conservation targets

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Aeriel view of Seal River Watershed
Located about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, the Seal River Watershed has managed to escape development — the sounds of resource extraction foreign to the last river in Manitoba that still flows wild.

And now, thanks to the persistence of five Indigenous communities, Indigenous youth will be able to realize dreams of becoming river guides and stewards of their territory as they protect the 50,000-square-kilometre watershed — home to about two dozen at-risk species — from the impacts of climate change.

The timing couldn’t be more important. The world is grappling with dual climate and biodiversity crises and Indigenous guardians programs like this will be key if Canada has any hope of reaching its target to protect 30 per cent of its land and oceans by 2030 (it’s currently at just 13 per cent).

“It’s helping with environmental conservation, it’s helping with biodiversity loss, but it’s also helping ensure there’s futures for these young people,” Stephanie Thorassie, a member of the Sayisi Dene First Nation who also leads the Seal River Watershed Alliance, told Manitoba reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers.
Photo of Stephanie Thorassie
“And it’s not just about conservation, but also a tangible step towards reconciliation, this idea of giving the land back,” Julia-Simone said.

Before any United Nations climate targets, the Sayisi Dene — who were forcibly relocated from their own territory between 1956 and 1973 — sounded off alarms about a changing climate. In 2020, they led the charge to establish an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area

Indigenous guardians programs have flourished so much in recent years — there are now more than 120 running — that federal funding hasn’t managed to keep up with the demand. 

The Seal River Watershed Alliance, which is still waiting on a provincial decision on the status of the protected area, has already created 30 guardian jobs where youth will learn to set up trail cameras, record calls of the songbirds and establish a system to better track changes brought on by the climate crisis.

Indigenous leaders are watching to see if Canada commits to Indigenous guardian programs at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal next month. But many Indigenous-led conservation initiatives aren’t waiting for the colonial okay. 

To the west in B.C., where Indigenous guardians are already filling major conservation gaps, progress in the lead-up to COP15 has been slow. B.C. is home to the most biodiversity in all of Canada and also the most species at risk of extinction. But the province has yet to adopt a stand-alone law to protect endangered species, despite a 2017 promise by the B.C. NDP. And action on vanishing old-growth forests? The B.C. government still hasn’t committed to matching a $50 million federal offer on the table.

B.C. biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank will be at COP15 to ask some hard questions about Canada’s roadblocks to supporting Indigenous-led conservation (listen to her thoughts about this on today’s episode of The Big Story podcast here). What are some questions you want answered? Send them our way before Ainslie goes to Montreal!

Take care and don’t look back on your 30s with regret,

Karan Saxena
Audience fellow
Aerial shot of houses near the Greenbelt

A Starwhal is Born (2022)

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced plans to remove 15 parcels of land from the protected Greenbelt (which he promised not to do), Ontario reporter Emma McIntosh — along with our friends over at the Toronto Star — began wondering who owned properties that could suddenly be ripe for development

In our latest Starwhal investigation (read the first here), we found that eight of the 15 chunks include properties purchased since the election of Ford, who in 2018 told a private audience he’d “open a big chunk” of the Greenbelt if he became premier.

For prominent Ontario developers like Michael Rice — who paid $80 million for two parcels of land just this September — the investment is set to pay off. Rice isn’t alone: Silvio De Gasperis, owner of TACC Developments, bought $50 million of farmland, with large chunks in the Greenbelt, in May 2021. De Gasperis is among the biggest winners of Ford’s proposed changes.

To help you see who owns the land and how lobbyists for many of these companies are connected to the provincial government, check out our awesome graphics: an interactive map and a flowchart will help you understand how Ontario’s PCs are connected to the landowners set to benefit the most.

A caveat: while names of nine match records of donations over $572,000 to the PCs since 2014, and names of five landowners match lobbying records, The Narwhal/Star cannot independently verify they are the same people.


This week in The Narwhal

A chopped down tree
‘Removing the evidence of our existence’: logging of culturally important trees rampant in B.C.
By Judith Lavoie 
Culturally modified trees are an important marker of Indigenous Peoples’ presence on and stewardship of the land — and not enough is being done to protect them, experts say.

Capping off a week of climate conversations on The Big Story podcast
By Karan Saxena

Sale signs near farmland in Stoney Creek, Ont.
‘Appeals are not allowed’: defying residents’ choice, Doug Ford orders Hamilton to allow sprawl
By Fatima Syed
B.C. flooding: view of Highway 11, known as Abbotsford-Mission Highway
More dikes and bigger dams could be a multi-billion dollar mistake: here’s how B.C. could ‘build back better’
By Erica Gies
caribou mother and calf
‘Huge legal gaps’ are driving B.C. species to extinction, conservation groups say
By Ainslie Cruickshank

What we’re reading

The 20-year campaign to protect the endangered fish found on only one place on Earth
It’s not just Coca-Cola: Corporations have co-opted the UN climate talks
The percentage of Canada’s protected land and water by 2030 — if government takes the lead from Indigenous-led conservation practices. We still have time — get your friends to sign up so we can (hopefully) tell them to celebrate in a few years.
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