One year ago this month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report. Its pages described the anguish caused by residential schools and the gaps remaining between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in terms of education and prosperity. Prime Minister Trudeau praised the report, saying “This is a time of real and positive change. We know what is needed is a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people.”
Initial steps have been taken since then, but the question remains: how do we create this renewal? What does a restored relationship look like?
This year the Indigenous Leadership Initiative presented one of the most powerful illustrations of renewal we’ve seen: the National Indigenous Guardians Network—a plan for empowering Indigenous people to manage the land, inspire youth and strengthen communities.
It will foster healthy forests and coastal waters. Young people gaining hope and job opportunities. First Nations and Canada meeting as respected partners. These are elements of a relationship that all people in this country can be proud of.
That’s why more than 50 Members of Parliament representing all parties recently wrote to Finance Minister Bill Morneau urging the government to fund the National Indigenous Guardians Network in the next federal budget. It was an unusual show of all-party support in the midst of budget season, but we all agree the investment will yield sweeping benefits.
The idea for the Network emerged from on-the-ground success. In nearly 30 communities across the country—from Haida Gwaii to the Innu Nation—Indigenous Guardians already serve as stewards on the land, patrolling protected areas, studying the health of wildlife and monitoring development projects. They help communities decide how to manage their territories according to western science and traditional values. And they encourage conversations between First Nations, industry and government.
The act of caring for the land strengthens communities in a variety of ways. A recent analysis from the Northwest Territories showed that for every one dollar invested, the Indigenous Guardian programs deliver $2.50 in social, economic and environmental benefits. Those benefits range from improving water quality monitoring to offering Indigenous youth a sense of purpose tied to their culture and elders’ knowledge. With sustained funding, the return could increase to $3.70 for each dollar invested.
We can generate the same results across Canada—including on Algonquin traditional lands in my riding of Pontiac—and achieve something far greater in the process.
Federal funding for the National Indigenous Guardians Network would bring these benefits to more than 200 communities. This national approach has proven successful in Australia, which has invested over $580 million since 2007, creating a network of 109 Indigenous Ranger groups. The Ranger teams draw on both western science and Indigenous ecological knowledge to manage more than 1.7 million square kilometers of land and sea.
The benefits of the Rangers’ work reach beyond the environment. Researchers have found that when Ranger programs launch in communities, employment rises, tax revenues increase, public health improves and domestic violence and other crimes drop. They also instill a greater sense of confidence and well-being among Indigenous people. Recent studies for the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet Office demonstrate that every dollar invested in Rangers returns an estimated $3 in social, economic and cultural value.
We can generate the same results across Canada—and achieve something far greater in the process. Empowering Indigenous communities to manage their own lands brings us closer to the “nation-to-nation” relationship Prime Minister Trudeau has called for.
Now is the time to act. Investing in the National Indigenous Guardians Network offers the kind of bold commitment we need. It will transform the way Canada and First Nations interact, forging a relationship that makes the entire country stronger.
– Will Amos is the Liberal MP for The Pontiac, Quebec