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Canada commits $800 million to support Indigenous-led conservation projects

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By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

Ottawa will spend up to $800 million to support four major Indigenous-led conservation projects across the country covering nearly one million square kilometres of land and water, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.

Trudeau made the announcement at the Biosphere environment museum in Montreal accompanied by Indigenous leaders and federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault as a UN meeting on global biodiversity, known as COP15, takes place in the city.

Trudeau said the four projects — which will be located in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, northern Ontario and Nunavut — will be developed in partnership with the communities in question.

“Each of these projects is different, because each of these projects is being designed by communities, for communities,” he said.

Chief Jackson Lafferty, of the Tlicho government in the Northwest Territories, said Indigenous groups have long been working to protect their lands and water but have lacked resources and tools to fully do so.

Lafferty, who attended the announcement, called the funding “a significant step forward on a path to reconciliation across Canada.”

Among the projects to be funded is a marine conservation and sustainability initiative in the Great Bear Sea along British Columbia’s north coast, championed by 17 First Nations in the area.

Another project includes protection for boreal forests, rivers and lands across the Northwest Territories, spearheaded by 30 Indigenous governments.

Funds will also go to an Inuit-led project involving waters and land in Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region and to a project in western James Bay to protect the world’s third largest wetland, led by the Omushkego Cree in Ontario.

Trudeau told reporters that the exact details of the agreements have yet to be worked out — including which portions of the lands will be shielded from resource extraction.

The Indigenous partners, he said, will be able to decide which lands need to be completely protected and where there can be “responsible, targeted development.”

“We know we need jobs, we know we need protected areas, we know we need economic development,” he said. “And nobody knows that, and the importance of that balance, better than Indigenous communities themselves that have been left out of this equation, not just in Canada but around the world, for too long.”

Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council, said the B.C. funding to help protect the Great Bear Sea would allow Indigenous groups to build on previous agreements to protect the terrestrial lands of Great Bear Rainforest, which were announced about 15 years ago.

“I did media all over the world, and I got home and my elder said, ‘Don’t sprain your arm patting yourself on the back, because until you do the marine component, it doesn’t mean anything,'” he said.

Grand Chief Alison Linklater of the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree communities in northern Ontario, said their traditional territory includes ancient peatlands that store “billions of tons” of carbon, as well as wetlands that are home to many migratory birds and fish, and 1,200 kilometres of coastline.

She said caring for the lands is one of her sacred duties as grand chief and one of the main concerns of the people she represents.

“Without our lands and waters we do not exist,” she told the news conference.

In a statement, the federal government said the program would employ a “unique funding model” bringing together government, Indigenous Peoples, philanthropic partners and other investors to secure long-term financing for community-led conservation projects.

The government did not specify how much of the funding would be allocated for each project.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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Alberta

Alberta First Nation signs child welfare agreement with feds, without the province

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Maskwacis – An Alberta First Nation signed a two-year agreement with Ottawa Wednesday that gives it the autonomy to administer its own child welfare.

Louis Bull Tribe in Maskwacis, Alta., south of Edmonton, is the first in the province to sign such an agreement.

“This is an important day for Louis Bull Tribe,” Chief Desmond Bull said during the signing. “Our children are sacred. This law seeks to bring them home.”

The First Nation said it’s a bilateral agreement with the federal government and does not involve the province.

Last year, Louis Bull’s child welfare organization, Asikiw Mostos O’Pikinawasiwin Society, said Alberta wasn’t co-operating and didn’t want to sign the agreement. Child welfare services for most Indigenous children are provided by the province or territory where they reside.

The provincial government did not respond to a request for comment.

Ottawa passed An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families in 2020 with a focus on prevention so families can receive support to remain together.

It allows First Nations to bypass co-ordination agreements with provincial governments if no consensus is met one year after a request is made to administer to their own child welfare services.

“Wherever there is a conflict of law — federal, provincial, municipal, or another First Nation — this Asikiw Mostos O’Pikinawasiwin Law is paramount,” said a news release from Indigenous Services Canada.

“Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care remains a priority for AMO Society with the support from the Government of Canada.”

The Asikiw Mostos O’Pikinawasiwin Society was founded shortly after the federal bill was passed. The society works toward the First Nation having full authority over its child and family services.

Catherine Lappe, assistant deputy minister at Indigenous Services Canada, signed the agreement with Bull on behalf of Minister Patty Hadju during a ceremony.

“Louis Bull Tribe is leading the way to a better future for their families and children,” said Hadju in a statement. “Canada’s colonial reality has harmed too many people over generations, but today Canada and Louis Bull Tribe have a new path forward together.”

Bull said the law will ensure that children will grow up immersed in their own culture.

“Although this is only a two-year agreement, it gives us the base and the foundation for us to look forward to developing something stronger, something more permanent, something that will allow that bilateral agreement to continue.”

Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan was the first to sign such an agreement in 2021. Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Ontario and Peguis First Nation in Manitoba have also signed agreements with Ottawa and their provincial governments.

Dozens of other First Nations across the country are waiting for agreements.

The federal government will provide Louis Bull Tribe nearly $125 million over the next two years as it implements the Asikiw Mostos O’Pikinawasiwin law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.

By Angela Amato in Edmonton.

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Regional chief warns of ‘tight’ turnaround as Ottawa eyes First Nations policing law

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By Stephanie Taylor and Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he hopes to introduce legislation declaring First Nations policing an essential service early in the new year, with one regional chief calling that timeline “tight.”

In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Mendicino said the prospective law is under development with input from Indigenous stakeholders and communities, who he said deserve “the same quality of policing” as non-Indigenous communities.

He described the work as the next step in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“We need to anchor our work in a relationship that is based on trust, on respect and on a recognition of the inherent right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determine when it comes to public faith,” Mendicino said.

“It is precisely those values that is channelling the work that we are doing on the ground.”

In September, Mendicino told reporters he would “work around the clock” to have the law ready to be introduced this fall, but that did not happen.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to create legislation declaring First Nations policing an essential service in 2020.

However, Ghislain Picard, a regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations representing Quebec and Labrador, says they have been discussing it with the federal government since the early days of Trudeau’s first mandate in 2015.

“Timelines have been pushed back and pushed back,” he said Wednesday.

He said the hope now is to have legislation presented in spring 2023, but “a lot of work has to happen between now and then.”

Picard said that discussions about what the legislation should look like involve not only stakeholders such as the AFN, a national advocacy organization for more than 600 First Nations communities, but also provinces, experts and police chiefs.

“Timelines are going to be tight,” he said.

The Conservative critic for Indigenous services, Gary Vidal, said that his party will review the legislation when it is introduced.

“However, it is already delayed, and that is not a good start if the government wants us to believe it is a priority for them,” he said in a statement.

Trudeau’s government has also faced pressure, including from Indigenous leaders, to reform the RCMP. The national force often acts as the main service for those living on-reserve because of contract policing agreements that it has in place with all provinces except Quebec and Ontario, which have their own provincial forces.

Crimes such as the stabbing rampage on James Smith Cree Nation in September, which left 11 dead and 18 others injured, have amplified the calls for reform.

Federal NDP Indigenous services critic Lori Idlout said that the tragedy reinforced a critical need for First Nations policing.

“The Liberal government keeps failing them through continuous delays in introducing the legislation,” the Nunavut MP said in a statement.

“Indigenous peoples have the solutions; they just need a federal partner willing to provide long-term, sufficient and equitable funding.”

Funding is indeed viewed as one of the major barriers. Since 1991, Ottawa has provided funding for police services on First Nations and in Inuit communities, but an internal evaluation this year found the program suffered from a lack of resources and the underfunding of service agreements.

Passing legislation that declares policing on First Nations to be an essential service is the easy part, Picard said.

“How do we fund it is the harder part,” he said. “This is really what’s at stake here.”

Picard added that many elements will need to be taken into account, such as salaries, benefits, training and infrastructure — not to mention how needs will differ depending on factors such as a community’s remoteness.

“It is complex,” he said.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also flagged concerns around the inadequate funding with the existing program, and its 2019 report included a call to action to “dramatically transform Indigenous policing.”

It said Indigenous police services must be funded to the same level as non-Indigenous ones, and undergo audits by civilian oversight bodies.

There are currently 35 First Nations police services in the country, according to Public Safety Canada, the majority of which operate in Ontario and Quebec.

iation has said it’s received dozens of calls from other communities looking to go the same route, which it says can be a lengthy, complicad process.

Despite not yet coming out with a new law, Mendicino said his government has made progress on the issue by reaching an agreement with the Alberta government and province’s Siksika Nation that would allow the community to transition away from relying on the RCMP and instead create a self-administered police service.

Mendicino pointed out that Ottawa also signed an agreement with the Saskatchewan government and the Prince Albert Grand Council, which includes James Smith Cree Nation, to explore new ways to deliver public safety.

“That’s what moving forward with reconciliation looks like,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2022.

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