Uphold our caretakers

Uphold our caretakers r1 ... SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER The Narwhal's masthead logo One hand grabbing mussels from another person's hand Oil refineries, chemical plants and marine terminals. The landmarks of urban and industrial development dominate the shoreline of Burrard Inlet, a narrow body of water between the City of Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.

But 200 years ago, writes B.C. biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank, the inlet was lush and bountiful. Fed by rivers teeming with salmon, brimming with clam gardens and schools of herring so plentiful they would have “painted the waters a stunning milky turquoise each year,” the inlet — called səl̓ilw̓ət in the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language — was a rich source of food for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Last October, Ainslie spent a day on the water gathering clams with a Tsleil-Waututh field crew, whose monitoring and research are part of a critical effort by the nation to restore the inlet, so one day their people can harvest from its waters again.

Today, June 21, Canada recognizes National Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s a day for “celebrating the history, heritage, resilience and diversity.” Many Indigenous people and settler Canadians mark the occasion by witnessing Indigenous performances or sharing in food and storytelling.

But stories like Ainslie’s are a reminder that so much of our Indigenous histories and resilience is embedded in the lands and waters themselves; they’re sites of culture, language, knowledge and connection.

As Charlene Aleck, a Tsleil-Waututh band councillor, told Ainslie, to see the waters of Burrard Inlet poisoned is “like seeing your grandmother sick.”
A boat with a person on it, two people on land adjusting the ropes. Canada is just beginning to understand and affirm those connections — partly because it’s increasingly obvious that our collective survival depends on them. As we brace for another devastating wildfire season, it’s never been clearer that protecting our ecosystems is urgent and necessary — and that Indigenous people, who have been stewarding their homelands for millennia, are the ones to lead that work.

These efforts are the focus of our new series Spirits of Place, which dives deeply into the efforts of Indigenous communities to protect the land, water and ice that sustain us — a complement to our ongoing coverage of Indigenous stories.

Since 2018, more than a billion dollars have been earmarked for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), Guardians programs and other initiatives — but despite those promises, very few places have received formal recognition from colonial governments. Some Indigenous nations, like the Simpcw, are taking matters into their own hands and declaring protections over their homelands. Others are seeing those promises of protection go up in smoke, like the Métis community of Île-a-la-Crosse, Sask., which lost half of its proposed conservation area to a massive wildfire in May.

However you mark the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day, these stories invite you to learn about the importance of Indigenous stewardship — and remind you that it’s never been more important to uphold the rights of Indigenous nations to protect their lands and waters.

Take care and thank the caretakers of the place you call home,

Michelle Cyca,
Editor, Indigenous-led conservation
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Conservation reads

Illustration by Karlene Harvey about the promise of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). Left to right: a father walks with two kids in a forest; two people look out at the sunset; two people pick native plants; a mother holds her child. The future of conservation in Canada depends on Indigenous protected areas. So what are they?
By Michelle Cyca
Canada’s climate commitments rest in Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas — often called IPCAs. While the concept isn’t new, it’s gaining better recognition and funding from, at least, some governments.

A pair of hands tending to grass on the ground How can Canada stop the biodiversity crisis? Step back and centre Indigenous Peoples
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
A small child and Mamalilikulla youth dance in regalia at Mamalilikulla's recently proclaimed protected area. People watch in the background, and misty mountains are visible The Mamalilikulla’s long journey home
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood

Water testing with Nisga'a youth How an oily fish is connecting Nisg̱a’a youth to the land
By Matt Simmons

Woman smiles as she paddles a grey canoe wearing a black cap and red life vest Indigenous Guardian program brings hope, sovereignty to Manitoba’s last undammed river
By Julia-Simone Rutgers

What we’re reading

Meet the 24-year-old Coast Salish woman protecting her Orca relatives around Victoria, profiled by Danielle Khan Da Silva in the Globe and Mail.

For IndigiNews, reporter Aaron Hemens writes about syilx people reclaiming a sacred salmon fishing site.

Janell Henry writes about a trend showcasing “Indigenous humour at its finest” — men from First Nations across Manitoba posing for the camera in merman costumes — for CBC News. r63

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