Conservationists of nature, indigenous peoples who give hope to biodiversity

For countless generations, Indigenous peoples across Canada have relied on caribou for survival. Of course, they were the first to warn about his disappearance.

To save the “heart of their culture,” some nations decided to take matters into their own hands, as in western Canada, thanks to a pilot program.

An innovative project highlighting the contribution of indigenous peoples to protecting ecosystems as delegates from around the world gather in Montreal for COP15 on biodiversity to forge a new deal for nature.

“Basically, we are a caribou people,” Valerie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative of Canada and a member of the Innu people, told AFP.

“The caribou is what allows us to survive and who we are,” he continues.

Today, the species known in Europe as reindeer is threatened in much of Canada. It is about: massive destruction of its habitat, ancient forests, fragmentation by logging, construction of roads and even high voltage lines.

Indigenous women protest the opening of COP15 in Montreal, December 6, 2022 (AFP – Andrej Ivanov)

The Klinse-Za caribou subpopulation in western British Columbia, Canada, was once so abundant that it was called a “landscape parasite,” as explained in a March 2022 paper in Ecological Applications. As recently as 2013, there were only 38 people.

That year, the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations developed a plan to reduce caribou predation that initially included the removal of wolves. Then add a fenced enclosure for the females to give birth and raise their young.

Thanks to their efforts, the number of caribou in the region tripled from 38 to 114.

With the threat of local extinction averted, in 2020 the two communities signed an agreement with the governments of British Columbia and Canada to secure 7,900 square kilometers of land for caribou in hopes of reviving their traditional hunting.

“When you protect caribou, a lot of animals follow,” Ronnie Drever, a conservation scientist at the non-profit organization Nature United, told AFP.

“Good caribou conservation is also climate action,” he said, because the old-growth forests and peatlands they inhabit are invaluable carbon sinks.

– Rights of indigenous peoples –

Globally, indigenous people own or use a quarter of the land, but maintain 80% of the remaining biodiversity.

In an article published in “Current Biology” magazine in October of last year, the tropical forests of Asia, Africa and the Americas were investigated. Their findings are clear: those located on protected native lands were “healthiest, most functional, most diverse and most resilient.”

Therefore, some decry the effects of colonization and argue that biodiversity loss is not due to the conversion or degradation of pristine ecosystems by humans, but to the appropriation and intensification of use of already settled lands.

The study also revealed that areas untouched by humans 12,000 years ago were as rare as they are today.

For Jennifer Tauli Corpuz of the Kankana-ey Igorot people of the Philippines, a lawyer and expert at the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, the research shows the importance of collaborative efforts.

“The guard doesn’t necessarily have a good reputation among the indigenous people because it has caused displacement,” he told AFP.

National parks, based on the Euro-American idea that the land was once pure “wilderness,” generally prevented indigenous peoples from using their lands in their traditional ways and displaced many people from their homelands.

According to him, the rights of indigenous groups should be integrated within the framework of a new global agreement on biodiversity, which could lead to the protection of 30% of land and oceans by 2030.

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