It’s Monday, December 12, and Canada is marshaling $587 million to support First Nation-led conservation projects.

Arctic tern

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week a $587 million initiative to support up to four Indigenous-led conservation projects over the next seven years. The funding, which draws from government coffers and private philanthropy, is set to protect up to 386,000 square miles of land across four Canadian provinces and territories.

“[T]oday, we took an important step forward — together — to deliver a vision of conservation that has partnership and reconciliation at its core,” Trudeau said in a statement.

With the new funding, the Canadian government intends to help Indigenous governments and organizations set up protected areas across British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Ontario. Canada, which is backing “ambitious action to protect nature” as the host of this month’s international biodiversity conference, is hoping the initiative will help it conserve 30 percent of its land and seas by 2030 — although there are still questions about how the government is defining conservation.

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In the Northwest Territories, the funding will support efforts from a coalition of 30 Indigenous governments and organizations to protect the region’s biodiverse tundra and boreal forest ecosystems, home to polar bears, wolverines, and hundreds of species of birds.

“This means a lot to us,” said Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, the main body representing Fort Good Hope Dene, one of the First Nations in the Northwest Territories that will receive funding. “Protecting the land, protecting the water, the wildlife” is vital to preserving his people’s culture and ensuring a healthy environment for future generations. Erutse said he’s still waiting for details on how the funding will be used, but suggested it could help support existing programs to monitor water quality and survey wildlife.

As climate change causes the Canadian Arctic to warm four times faster than the rest of the planet, Erutse added that the funding could also help mitigate damage to plants and animals that are adapted to the region’s normally frigid temperatures. For instance, it could support collaborative research into the melting permafrost and increasing wildfire risks, both of which are priorities listed in the Government of Northwest Territories’ climate change strategic framework.

“We want to understand and contribute our traditional knowledge to the science,” Erutse said.

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