Indigenous Peoples, COVID-19, and WCS Canada’s Response: Protecting People and Rights

Indigenous Peoples in Canada are disproportionately affected by both COVID‐19 and government  measures to mitigate the spread.  This briefing highlights some key issues and describes how we are supporting Indigenous Peoples in the best way we can including: respecting community priorities on health and self‐isolation; supporting First Nations  responsibilities and rights to take care of the land; and, amplifying food sovereignty, particularly  traditional and country foods. 


Our scientific research takes place on Indigenous lands and waters. We are committed to reconciliation through research and conservation with Indigenous Peoples. This requires a shift towards conservation models and practices that respect and recognize Indigenous knowledge systems and a recognition of the right of Indigenous Peoples to protect their lands, worldviews, and knowledge systems. We partner directly with Indigenous Peoples, where invited, to undertake scientific research and support common conservation goals. 

Some of the ways in which we work with First Nations and Inuit are by co-developing research on cultural keystone species like lake sturgeon and bison, assessing marine mammal diets and health through community based monitoring, and supporting the planning, establishment, and management of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs).

Here are some examples of initiatives we are undertaking in conjunction with Indigenous communities:
  • We are working with the Moose Cree First Nation in Northern Ontario to document lake sturgeon, or namayo, movements in the North French (known as Kah Ban Yow Sipi or Meh Ko Poh Meh Shtik Sipi in Cree) and Lower Mattagami Rivers within the Moose Cree Homeland. Freshwater fish remain important for food security and cultural and spiritual values for many Indigenous Peoples throughout Canada, but fish are facing threats ranging from warming waters to hydroelectric development that changes water flows, degrades spawning areas and can impact migratory fishes.  
  • We helped organize a workshop on community-based monitoring for First Nations in northern Ontario to consider why this approach was important as well as what and how to monitor the species, systems, and processes that are important to communities given climate change and new industrial development in their territories. The workshop was grounded by our comprehensive report on CBM programs in Canada and around the world.
  •  In 2016, WCS Canada helped organize a meeting of the American Bison Society in Banff, Alberta, which included a ceremony to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the signing of the Buffalo Treaty.  The treaty serves to honor, recognize, and revitalize the sacred relationship First Nations of North America have with buffalo.  
  • We are working with Inuit in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) through a partnership with community Hunter and Trapper Committees focused on assessing seal diets and health (e.g., contaminants) as indicators of a changing Arctic ecosystem. Through our partnership, WCS Canada contributes reliable scientific information as well as training to the Community-Based Monitoring Program, which informs and supports decisions by resource managers and developers, Inuvialuit organizations and wildlife co-management boards tasked with managing the wildlife and lands in the ISR.
  • We are working with several First Nations on their land-use plans and land stewardship frameworks in Yukon, collaborating on key pieces of research focused on salmon spawning monitoring and permafrost erosion, cumulative effects on species at risk, and bridging Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge into conservation priority maps.

Our work with Indigenous communities is based on partnerships, trust, and the recognition of the need to advance the cultural, social, spiritual, physical and economic well-being of Indigenous Peoples. We aim for conservation outcomes that serve both the environment and the needs of the communities we work with. 

Through our work, we hope to deliver on the recommendations of the Indigenous Circle of Experts as a member of the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership.

WCS Canada recognizes the rights and title of Indigenous Peoples, guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) and the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). WCS Canada commits to respectfully engage with Indigenous Peoples when our work affects or concerns their interests.

Key Staff

Cheryl Chetkiewicz
Conservation Scientist
Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle
Conservation Planning Biologist
Constance O'Connor
Associate Conservation Scientist
Stephen Insley
Associate Conservation Scientist

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