Our scientific research takes place on Indigenous lands and waters. We are committed to reconciliation through research and conservation of wildlife, lands, and waters with Indigenous Peoples. This requires a shift towards conservation approaches and practices that respect and recognize Indigenous Knowledge systems as well as 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.
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 Calls to Action and principles established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. WCS Canada commits to respectfully engage with Indigenous Peoples when our work affects or concerns their interests.
Indigenous Peoples in Canada are disproportionately affected by both COVID‐19 and government measures to mitigate the spread. WCS Canada has taken steps to support Indigenous Peoples in this difficult period, respecting community priorities on health and self‐isolation; supporting First Nations’ responsibilities and rights to take care of the land; and improving food sovereignty, particularly access to healthy traditional and country foods.
Some of the ways in which we work with First Nations and the Inuvialuit are by co-developing research on cultural keystone species, such as 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 are also working to communicate and discuss our research on freshwater fish conservation in northern Ontario to First Nations.
• We are working with interested communities, such as the Weenusk First Nation, on community-based research and monitoring (CBM) efforts, building on 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 Inuvialuit communities 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 scientific information as well as training to the Community-Based Monitoring Program for the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR). This program 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 partnership, 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. WCS Canada is a member of the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership.