In about 30 First Nations across the country, Indigenous Guardians help care for the land and water. They act as the “eyes and ears” for their communities, paying attention to the health of animals, testing water quality, monitoring industrial development, and welcoming visitors to protected areas. “We are here protecting Mother Earth in order for the rest of the world to live on her,” says Gloria Enzoe of the Ni hat’ni Dene Guardians program of the Lutsel K’e First Nation in the Northwest Territories.
The Indigenous Leadership Initiative has a dream that every Indigenous Nation will be able to develop their own guardians program. This will empower Indigenous Nations to fulfill their cultural responsibilities to their homelands. And because the ability to manage the land rests at the core of nationhood, it will enable a true Nation-to-Nation partnership with the Government of Canada.
The Indigenous Leadership Initiative has been working to make that dream a reality, and we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the process.
We are bringing together experts—representatives from First Nations with existing guardians programs—to help design a National Indigenous Guardians Network that will support and connect guardians across Canada. The federal government announced $25 million in last year’s budget to launch the network, and we want to ensure Indigenous voices define what that launch looks like.
“We have a rare opportunity here to develop a model in the spirit of our nationhood, a model that defines our duties and responsibility of taking care of the land,” says Dave Courchene, Jr. of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and Senior Advisor to the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.
Since the federal government announced its budget commitment last year, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative has been working in partnership with Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and others to negotiate a framework for the network. We understood that a draft framework would be ready for review and consultation at a large National Guardians Gathering this spring. But due to broad policy developments within the federal government, the event has been postponed until the fall.
In the meantime, many of us wish to see concrete progress on the National Indigenous Guardians Network. We want to ensure that interim arrangements can be made with the federal government so funds can be distributed as soon as possible to potential Guardians programs.
Taking the next steps requires a good map. The Indigenous Leadership Initiative is convening a working session of experienced guardians to outline how to build a strong and representative National Indigenous Guardians Network. (Click here to highlights from the event). This discussion draft—developed by guardians and reviewed by guardians across the country—will provide the basis upon which we will continue to work in partnership with the federal government.
“The knowledge we hold as a People is required more than ever, to share with those who arrived on our homeland,” says Dave Courchene, Jr. “This is our duty and responsibility to show them why we love the land so much and how we can take better care of the land.” Guardians help Indigenous Nations embody that knowledge and honour that responsibility.