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Indigenous Protected Areas

There’s a growing recognition that Indigenous-led conservation — and important stewardship work Indigenous Peoples have undertaken for millennia — needs to be supported. Globally, 80 per cent of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity can be found on lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples.

By 2025, Canada is supposed to protect 25 per cent of land and water. It’s almost 2023, and the country needs to add another 11.5 per cent of land and 11.1 per cent of water to meet its goal. The final goal is 30 per cent protection of land and water by 2030. This can’t be done without Indigenous-led conservation. 

As we near the start of COP15, the United Nations’ biodiversity conference being held in Montreal, on Kanien’kéha territory, Canada has an opportunity to set an example on the global stage, experts say.

The rise of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs)

Indigenous protected areas in principle have existed as long as Indigenous Peoples have. But their recent iteration of being known as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, more commonly called IPCAs, goes back to 2018. That’s when the federally funded Indigenous Circle of Experts published a report on how Indigenous-led conservation could be undertaken and how that could help Canada reach its United Nations commitments on climate change and conservation.

Since then, the idea has taken off.

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Indigenous Peoples lead conservation and stewardship within Indigenous protected areas, in accordance with their own priorities and laws. Now, so many IPCA proposals and declarations are being announced that it’s hard to keep track of them. There are 500,000 square kilometres of proposed protected areas in the works, and there are more proposals coming from First Nations, Inuit and Métis than the slow wheels of government can keep up with. Many communities, such as the Mamalilikulla and the Gitxsan, are taking protection into their own hands by exerting sovereignty over their lands and waters. 

Whether a nation has an IPCA or not, Indigenous-led conservation of all kinds is critical in protecting lands, waters and the creatures within them, including humans. Whether it be establishing tribal parks, monitoring and stewarding their territories or fighting for the protection of land and water in court, Indigenous-led conservation has never stopped — it’s only gaining momentum as Indigenous Peoples reclaim their roles as stewards after decades of Canada attempting to sever their connections to their territories.

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