Indigenous peoples’ protected and conserved areas: the pathway to Canada’s Target 1

IISAAK OLAM Foundation, Canada

In Canada, through the Pathways Initiative, indigenous peoples and governments are taking leadership together to establish Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). The Pathways Initiative is an initiative that recognises the integral role of Indigenous Peoples as leaders in conservation, and respects the rights, responsibilities and priorities of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples. Canada’s Target 1, which was designed to relate to domestic application of Aichi Target 11, was a catalyst for the Initiative, which seeks to support collective and collaborative efforts to conserve nature for the benefit of all Canadians, in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. The Initiative has led to the establishment of the following key supporting mechanisms:

  • The Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE). ICE has been involved in an intense engagement process with Indigenous knowledge holders from across Canada. Guided by traditional ways of knowing and principles of mutual respect, reciprocity and models of Ethical Space, it has introduced and developed the concept of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in Canada. ICE’s 2018 report, We Rise Together[i], defines IPCAs as “Lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems.” The report provides 28 recommendations for ways that international organizations, governments, civil society, and other actors can support implementation of IPCAs in Canada.
  • The IPCA Working Group. This was convened by the National Steering Committee for the Pathway to Canada Target 1 to enable further IPCA development across Canada following the release of the ICE report. The Working Group includes representation from federal, provincial, and territorial governments as well as the Assembly of First Nations.
  • In the 2018 budget, the federal government committed $1.3 billion over the next five years to create new protected areas.[ii] 27 IPCA projects across Canada are expected to receive funding through this program, and there is potential for a second round of proposals. The federal government has also committed an additional $25 million over 5 years to support Indigenous Guardian[iii] programs, modelled on Australia’s Working on Country program, and as of 2019 there were more than 40 Indigenous Guardian programs in place across Canada.

Examples of Indigenous led-conservation in Canada include:

  • An Indigenous-led UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pimachiowin Aki[iv], was declared in the boreal forests of Manitoba and Ontario in 2018. Pimachiowin Aki is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canada, recognized for both its cultural and natural values. It covers 29,040 square kilometres.
  • In December 2018, the Cree Nation on northern Quebec announced its intention to seek protected status for 30% of its territory, a total area of 80,000 square kilometres.[v]
  • Tallurutiup Imanga, declared in August 2019, is Canada’s newest National Marine Conservation Area, covering 108,000 square kilometres. An Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement[vi] established a cooperative management board and an Inuit Stewardship program for the area. Together with the 319,411 square kilometer Tuvaijuittuq marine protected area, Tallurutiup Imanga brings Canada’s total marine protected areas to 14%, exceeding the 2020 commitment of 10% of all marine waters.


[i] Indigenous Circle of Experts (2018) We Rise Together: Achieving Pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. Indigenous Circle of Experts. Available at:

[ii] Linnitt, C. (2018) Canada Commits Historic $1.3 Billion to Create New Protected Areas. Victoria: The Narwhal. Available at:

[iii] Indigenous Leadership Initiative (2017) RELEASE: National Indigenous Guardians Network Receives Funding in Federal Budget. Ottawa: Indigenous Leadership Initiative. Available:

[iv] Pimachiowin Aki (n.d.) Pimachiowin Aki. Winnipeg and Ontario: Pimachiowin Aki. Available at:

[v] Bell, S. (2018) Cree Nation identifies 30 per cent of its territory in conservation wish list. Toronto: CBC News. Available at:

[vi] Parks Canada (2019) National Marine Conservation Areas: Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement. Quebec: Parks Canada. Available at:

World heritage as a tool to heal Gunditjmara Country – Budj Bim Indigenous Protected Area, Australia

By Damein Bell, CEO, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

The importance of our traditional homelands is inherent to our belief, culture, practice and life. The Gunditjmara community in southwest Victoria, Australia, knows that our ancestors engineered water channels, making barriers with the lava flow and stones to farm kooyang (eels) and fish. This practice continued for thousands of years to build our societies and our stone village sites. The invasion, colonisation and dispossession of our traditional homelands since the early 1800s by Europeans impacted greatly on our lives and culture, but the stone aquaculture systems stayed mostly in place.

From the 1980s, the Gunditjmara regained control over parts of the aquaculture system through recognition of our right to protect our cultural heritage, which included securement of a freehold title. This restored the Gunditjmara community’s sense of self-determination and pride. The Gunditjmara worked with government and archaeologists as partners, to document the engineered stone works along the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, and to analyse and interpret how our cultural systems worked – how our ancestors had managed the hydrology of the Budj Bim systems and how the systems adapt during floods and droughts.

Over the past 40 years, our Gunditjmara community has continued to partner with universities and research organisations to produce technical scientific reports that are rich with contextual information on our ancestors and their practices. Weaving this new generation of science and reporting with our principles of self-determination and informed consent, the Gunditjmara community has increased its capacity to partner with the broader community and with government, and in this way to increase the area of country being returned to us.

We value the opportunity to manage and grow our country through the Indigenous Protected Area programme. This means that we are managing our country in line with IUCN standards. Additionally, in 2019 Budj Bim was accepted by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for inscription.

Just as importantly, we have managed to keep working on country with our Elders, young ones and families, continuing our connection to Gunditjmara country. An immense body of our ancestral knowledge was lost through invasion, colonisation and dispossession of our Gunditjmara country, but we now have a platform to work with our traditional homelands and waters and to see how traditional Gunditjmara knowledge will transform and heal the country that we are culturally obliged to look after.

Controlling the invasive Gmelina and bringing back biodiversity

Venecio Lingbawan and Florence Daguitan

In the 1990’s, gmelina (Gmelina arborea) was promoted in our territory in Guinaang Pasil, Kalinga. It is fast growing they say and can be harvested as timber after 10 years. We planted these in the u’uma (rotational agricultural areas) and in the boboloy (residential areas) in the ba-ang. Baang is mainly planted with trees; fruit bearing including oranges, jackfruits, avocado, pomelo, some are dominated by coffee; bananas and forest tree species, eg, narra, obol, towol for building houses, and bamboos (bulo and kawayan). Planting these perennial crops earn the family the right of ownership over the baang and these are bequeathed to their next generation. But while privatised these can still be used as pasture lands, as grass also grow abundantly in most of the baang.

With the readily available seedlings and promise of cash, we planted more gmelina but we observed that almost nothing is growing underneath. As the gmelina grow their crown, we observed that there is decreased yield in our crops such as coffee and beans. We waited for the trees to be big enough for timber, cut these and removed the roots and replaced these with the trees that we find in our land since time immemorial. By 2015, the diverse trees were restored.  We also realised that in the years that gmelina were abundant, some birds left our territories.  When we cut the gmelina and the native trees were restored, we observed the return of the birds.

Salmon conservation, indigenous education, and knowledge co-production in Kamchatka

By Tatiana Degai of Council of Itelmens “Tkhsanom”

Kamchatka peninsula on the North Pacific coast of Russia is home to twelve species of salmonid fish, including six species of Pacific wild salmon. It is the last region that acts as a global reserve and gene pool for salmon. Salmon form the wealth of Kamchatka and its peoples, and its sustainability determines the economic, spiritual and cultural domains of local life.

From 2004 to 2016, indigenous communities in Kamchatka concerned with salmon and their ecology worked actively on ethno-ecological education, together with the Ethno-Ecological Information Centre, “Lach” (an indigenous NGO).  This involved educational programmes fostering awareness and understanding about contemporary threats to salmon and its environment:

Creative Ethno-Ecological Contests were organised to introduce children and their parents to the ancestral traditions of their ancestors related to respect for the environment. Several literary and art contests for Kamchatka children were organized. In their submissions, participants highlighted the problem of poaching in various regions of the peninsula vividly and referred to traditional subsistence fishing and the rational use of natural resources in their home areas. The organisers sought to ensure that the children collaborated with the elders in writing down traditional stories and legends related to salmon.

Through ethno-ecological youth camps and festivals, we also worked to raise awareness about environmental issues on the peninsula. During the camps, indigenous youth studied the biology and habitat of the salmon, monitored spawning rivers and the state of the environment, also enhancing knowledge-sharing between elders and youth. Salmon Keepers’ Festivals were organized in the villages after the camps, so that camp participants had a chance to share what they had learned with their families and friends.

Several ethno-ecological publications for children and their parents were produced and distributed to schools and libraries in Kamchatka. These publications brought together indigenous and scientific knowledge about salmon in an entertaining, educational way. They included activity books that introduce young readers to the world of salmon, its lifecycle, and its place in indigenous cultures and cultural values.