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Daniel de Kok 0:14
What is conservation? And who does it stand to benefit? What could conservation look like if it took into account Indigenous ways of knowing and being? Many of the conversations that I had with Knowledge System Stream members turned to answer these questions in a variety of ways. This episode includes segments from my interviews with the following stream members, Nathan Cardinal, Soudeh Jamshidian, Karen Beazley and Allyson Menzies.
Nathan Cardinal 0:42
Oftentimes now, what I think about when I think about conservation, it’s not about kind of that the outcome that we’re that we’re seeking to achieve, but the challenge that we have is the process that we have to get there, and how do we work together to achieve the outcome that we all want to see.
And so, for me conservation, and it’s a simple change of the word, but it’s really conversation. And that most of the time, and what’s the most of the stuff that I do these days is talking. Because that is really what the heart of, of what I see as the process is like, so how do we communicate?
How do we be transparent about where we’re headed? How do we work together? How do we create structures that allow us to bring together and meet in ways that are respectful, that are considerate of culture, considerate of history? And how do, we can do that, and so, so it’s not really in my mind about the tool or what the outcome is, but it’s the process that we need to get there.
And so I spent a lot of these days thinking about the process and unlocking approaches to consensus and thinking about how did Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous laws and governance create mechanisms for people to get together and talk and have a conversation and share so that we could, we could agree on what that outcome is, and then take, oftentimes simple steps to get there. And so I think about conservation these days as a conversation.
Soudeh Jamshidian 2:14
The conventional conservation practices, they all came from the same place in the world, they came from this idea of separating humans from nature and conserving nature. In most parts of the world, basically, that’s where they came from. The first policies were designed in the United States in Yellowstone National Park.
And then they kind of went into the international policymaking bodies, like IUCN when they started in the 1940s, and then later developed the policies in 1960s. And that’s basically the same thing all around the world. Most conserved areas in the past, were just designed by separating humans from the environment.
And conserving nature. And then the practices that allowed to happen there, were mostly catered to people that came from the cities or middle class people from the cities coming and enjoying the benefits of nature.
Nathan Cardinal 3:15
We’re at the time really, where the environment is so wide open in terms of what conservation can look like. And that there’s, we’re just looking at this open horizon of different possibilities. And it’s not about, okay, well, we’re gonna fit it in this box of like, conservation and protection.
And this is what this is what we know, and this is what it looks like, or we’re going to fit in this box of stewardship, or planning or whatever. But it’s more about: how do we support Nations in defining what they need.
Maybe it’s sometimes it’s, you know, support for stories are for support for social development. So there’s space for people to think about conservation and protection, and what can organizations do to fulfill their responsibilities to support Nations.
Karen Beazely 4:08
Every human being has the right to the basic sources of life: air, water, soil, you know. And in, across the world, and in our society, some people aren’t getting as much as they need of those things. And some people are getting way more than they need of those things. So the basic human right, to have access to basic needs, to have enough to eat, to have enough shelter, to have enough.
You know, it’s our idea of what is enough has to change so that it can be more equitably distributed across people instead of having huge, huge, like billionaires and other people who are starving and in poverty. So we need more equitable distribution, we also need to, because in part, because the planet isn’t big enough to have the big, to have lots of people taking way too much.
So we need to redistribute the resources amongst all people. And so on the basis of basic human rights, basic human rights to have enough resources to survive, basic human rights to believe your beliefs, basic human rights to your own culture, and ways of knowing and being.
Everybody should not be required to conform to a more globalized vision of Western colonial society, which seems to view white people as superior, and people who have been educated and raised in Western scientific tradition or religion as being more superior than others. So all of the cultures and let’s say, all peoples need to be equally respected.
When we think about that, okay, so that’s taken care of our human family, but those kinds of rights extend beyond our human family, so are non-human family, they may not have culture in the same way, or science or ways of knowing in the same way that we know. But they do have their own ways of being and living their own languages and ways of speaking, their own families, their own ways, and societies and communities and ways of interacting, that are quite complex.
And just because they don’t look like ours doesn’t mean they aren’t communities or families. So when we think about those kinds of rights, the rights that they have, also to their basic needs.
So when we think about all the different species and the number of individuals on the planet, we need to get to more equitable way of beings being able to satisfy their rights and needs, and to live up to their responsibilities and all those things. And that has to be… there has to be a lot more reciprocity in a system between humans and non-humans, and current and future and past generations.
So those kinds of ideas, I think, need to come into the conservation sphere, in order to revise conservation in a way that takes those kinds of rights and more equitable distributions and those ideas about whose ideas count.
And whose knowledge is valuable, and bring them into the equation and moving forward and trying to decide what does conservation look like? Where should it be? Who decides those things? Who has a say? Who governs them? Who manages conservation areas? And what kind of activities are allowed in them?
For so long, we have had, in Western tradition in Canada, and in North America, but elsewhere as well, this idea of a fortress style conservation, where we need to put boundaries around natural areas and call them a park or something like this. And in that way, keep people out and keep nature safe. And we need to get beyond that dichotomy in the way we think about conservation.
Nathan Cardinal 8:42
When I think about reconciliation, I think part of, part of what I think about is, is recognition and recognition of the history of what we call conservation. Now that really has benefited from the subjugation and persecution of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people across Canada.
Soudeh Jamshidian 9:14
Now, the governments decided, different parties, or different countries decided that if they want to do conservation, they have to think about the diversity of different ways or different varieties of governance that are now available and acceptable.
So they went to identify, you know, community and Indigenous and community conserved areas around the world or in their own territories and identified by the particular areas. Just bring all of those and acknowledge them and add them to their particular area network, increasing the level of conservation that each country had around 10 percent at the time to 17 percent. So that’s where these changes started happening.
These are obviously better ways of conservation. There are other changes that have happened like in around 2016, IUCN basically introduced this green list of protected areas, which are protected areas that consider equally.
And basically having equal rights for the Indigenous people and free prior informed consent for conservation practices, all of which being like important criteria for actually considering an area properly conserved.
They even changed the definition of protected areas, from areas that are just conserving biodiversity to areas that are also by conserving cultural diversity and people’s rights.
Karen Beazely 10:48
Historically, when we created national parks, wilderness areas, you know, some of these things, national parks, people were expropriated from their land or dispossessed of their land, they were excluded from their land, they were excluded from use of their land, they were kicked off the land, you know, so.
So these are things that happened in the past. Now, currently, they still happen in some ways, right? You know, so if we decide this is going to be a protected area, that means sometimes that means no hunting, no fishing, you know, some of these activities are restricted.
And that can really have impacts on local people, Indigenous and non Indigenous who have used the land and Indigenous people have a relationship to land. So if suddenly they are excluded from these lands, has a tremendous impact on their well being in terms of their relationship to the land, which is deep and important.
So for example, if one more to Okay, let’s take a pause here for a minute. How are some ways we might overcome that Fortress style conservation? Well, one way to do it is to make sure that more local and traditional uses that are compatible with other values that we want to protect, are still allowed to occur.
So yeah, maybe hunting and fishing can still occur, those things aren’t the problem, things that are decimating species, the things that are decimating species are excessive changes to the landscape like urbanization, clear cut forestry, quarrying, mining, you know, those kinds of things.
So we could still have a conservation or protection area that allows some hunting and fishing and more traditional and sustainable uses, we don’t have to say no uses are, are permitted in here, only hiking is allowed in here, you know, that sort of thing. So that’s one way.
Another way is if we are designing new conservation parks protected areas, we could include Indigenous Peoples and more people than just government civil servants, in deciding where these protected and conserved areas are, where they should be, what shape they should take, where the boundaries are, what the values are, that we want to protect within, or conserve or recover or heal within those.
And then what activities are compatible with that. And so one example I might bring up is the idea of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.
So these are areas that are Indigenous-led or Indigenous co-led. Maybe they’d be Indigenous-governed or co-governed, Indigenous-managed and co-managed. And that take into account and reflect Indigenous values, Indigenous relationships, Indigenous knowledge systems and ways of knowing.
And so for example, in an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, we could look at okay, what are the biological and the cultural values that are in place on a piece of land and waters that the Indigenous people would like to protect?
So maybe there’s an historic trail or historic canoe route and traditional hunting areas and you know, current hunting areas maybe there are spiritually important places, burial grounds, all those areas could be encompassed in Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area.
And those biocultural values could thereby be conserved and healed and recovered, while also allowing those activities to continue to occur.
But what it does provide is kind of a protection mechanism that prohibits that land from becoming a mine, or a parking lot, or a shopping mall, or something to that effect. So there might be a win-win there for the traditional stewardship, or ongoing stewardship of the land by Indigenous Peoples and local peoples.
While it’s still being a conservation area. I also want to add that while Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas are a good model for doing that, those kinds of considerations in conservation and protected area planning did not have to be limited to only Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, those kinds of values, ideally, in a decolonial life system would come to bear in all conservation and protected areas, decision making, not just on a subset that are labeled as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.
So ideally, we need to, to bring all the voices and diverse values into all conservation protected areas, in order to help strengthen and heal the relationship between people and nature and help people renew their relationship with nature and relearn the fact that they are part of nature and not separate from it.
And so the more that we can include people and appropriate values, stewardship, responsibility, reciprocity between humans and nonhumans, across the landscape and in conserved and protected areas, then the better we will be moving forward. We can’t be relying on a subset of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas alone to be doing that for us.
Soudeh Jamshidian 16:53
In Canada, what has strikes me is how Indigenous people are so powerful, and they will stay their, they will, they’re standing their ground and taking care of the resources. I think it is a bit of a full circle, how things change and how, you know, the areas that the communities have kept their power and taken care of the resources are the areas that we still have the highest biodiversity concentration.
Nathan Cardinal 17:25
We need to recognize that those other ways of knowing and being have been impacted by how we’ve, as a society have lived today. I think, you know, it’s recognition of the input imposition of colonial systems.
And what we do today that has no impact or bearing upon those other ways of knowing or relating to the land. And so, conservation in some way is trying to, what I see, is take action to move towards reconciliation. So conservation itself is an action that can support or enable the recognition of what has happened in the past and can lead towards action, or a greater space or a recognition of those laws and ways of being and ways knowing that thereby enable better connections to the environment for all of them.
At the same time, conservation is an act. And if we’re not thoughtful, or prudent that in thinking about reconciliation is kind of a recognition, if we don’t, if we don’t take the time to recognize that, then we continue to proceed, as we have done in the past, that conservation in and of itself can be extremely damaging to Indigenous rights and responsibility. So without reconciliation, conservation can be a dangerous act.
Allyson Menzies 19:07
When I think about the role that environmental professionals, environmental science, the environment, plays and reconciliation, I think it’s a perfect place to really try to work towards that. The environment is key to everything.
It’s key to all of us thriving into the future, and it’s really a shared value across all cultures. I think Western worldviews have just gotten away a little bit from realizing that by living in urban centres and extracting things for money.
But ultimately I think if you got down to it, everyone would agree that the environment is necessary. So well, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report does not necessarily point to the environmental sector explicitly, which I find interesting.
And I think it would be an interesting conversation to have. It’s, trickled throughout all of the other calls to action in terms of culturally relevant health care and culturally relevant education in the form of land based learning and connecting use and care back to their culture, through land based learning and things like that.
I think whenever the terms culturally relevant or traditional, came out, I think, from an Indigenous perspective, that’s always linked to the land.
And the land is not, is not, you can’t separate the land, from culture, from traditional practices, from customs from who Indigenous people are. And so I think the environment, having a healthy environment is kind of trickled throughout all these calls to action.
Even though there aren’t specific calls for, you know, we call for the environmental ministry to do this. But I just really think that working together to create more sustainable practices and keep the environment healthy, is a really good place to really work on reconciliation as a whole and to be leaders in doing so.
Because, again, it is the shared value and we’re moving in the direction of environmental scientists finally understanding and acknowledging that Indigenous Peoples have this immense knowledge of the land and the environment.
And climate change is impacting Indigenous Peoples disproportionately. And all of these things that I think we’re at the time right now, where I think it’s important to recognize the role of weaving knowledge systems and environmental work as a step towards reconciliation in the bigger picture. And I think it’s a really good place. To do that to be leaders in that fight, I’ll say.
Karen Beazely 22:29
Some of these mechanisms to establish these areas are mechanisms of the Government of Canada, or mechanisms of a province or a territory. And there is the risk that that might be just imposing yet another colonial structure on the landscape. It might be, it runs the risk of being yet another colonial land grab, you know, coached or, you know, disguised under, as a reconciliation move. So that really needs to be guarded against.
And so I think that while those mechanisms have their place, it helps protect those areas for mutually agreeable objectives between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governance in communities with things like damaging resource extractions that the community doesn’t want in their area.
It also sort of negates this whole idea of land back and Indigenous territory. So in Nova Scotia, for example, the Mi’kmaq never ceded their territory, it’s all still territory of the Mi’kmaq that they are sharing with us.
So I think a really, what I would like to see is a process of giving land back. So transitioning Crown lands to Indigenous governance, instead of the provincial government or the federal government retaining the, almost the land as their own and allowing Indigenous people to co-govern and co-manage it. I think that ideally as we move forward, I would love to see some of those lands being given back.
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