Grassy Narrows; First Nations; Indigenous; rivers; mercury; mercury poisoning; health;

Why so resistant to Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Ontario?

Reporter Emma McIntosh read three sentences from internal briefing documents and discovered Ontario's pushback on Indigenous-led conservation efforts and land stewardship

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It’s no secret that the Ford government has a poor track record when it comes to protecting Ontario’s environment. 

Thankfully, Ontario reporter Emma McIntosh is obsessed with filing access to information requests to find out all the juicy tidbits of what’s going on behind the scenes. 

In combing through the details of a freshly fulfilled request last Friday, she found three sentences that popped out. 

Turns out Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs, raised concerns with the federal government around Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) — designated spaces where land and water usage and protection is under Indigenous stewardship.

We don’t know exactly what Rickford’s concerns were or when he voiced them, but last April, Canada’s deputy natural resources minister was briefed on how to address them in a meeting between the two governments. 

“I think there are likely some folks who see a deep irony in the provincial government wanting to be consulted on what First Nations want to do with their homelands. Because many Indigenous communities in Ontario have made it very clear, often through the courts and in media, that they feel Ontario is not properly consulting them,” Emma told me.

What stood out for Emma was more than just the province’s fussing behind closed doors.

“It’s one thing for a government to not support the idea of an IPCA, but it’s another thing to know that they’ve been actively resisting it,” Emma said. 

While the federal government has taken an interest in exploring IPCAs, provinces are sometimes hesitant, leveraging their control over so-called Crown lands, which works against the goal to conserve 30 per cent of the country’s land and water by 2030.

“The provincial government is simultaneously approving mining exploration permits — like in Grassy Narrows [First Nation] where the IPCA declaration was ignored. That kinda defeats the whole purpose,” Emma said.

Earth’s biodiversity is in a sharp decline and, as Emma reports, land managed by Indigenous Peoples contains about 80 per cent of what’s left. Their oversight of intact ecosystems is keeping a whole lot of carbon in the ground, while helping to mitigate floods and other climate disasters. 

Indeed, Indigenous land stewardship has been recognized as one of the most effective responses to climate change by scientists at the United Nations and beyond.

For a look at how Indigenous people care for the natural world, check out Matt Simmons’ feature on Wet’suwet’en celebrations as the salmon return, amidst threats from the Coastal GasLink pipeline and climate change.

Take care and celebrate your salmon,

Karan Saxena
Audience fellow


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The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling environment stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism.