Indigenous Guardians program gets $5.7M in federal funding

Ten First Nations communities from across B.C., along with 25 other Indigenous communities nationally, have been selected to receive funds for a new federally-funded environmental stewardship program.

Guardians in 28 communities, 10 of which are in B.C., received funding Tuesday for the pilot program

The B.C. portion of the funding for environmental stewardship will go to 10 First Nations communities, including three from Vancouver Island. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

Ten First Nations communities from across B.C., along with 25 other Indigenous communities nationally, have been selected to receive funds for a new federally-funded environmental stewardship program.

The Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program was included in the 2017 federal budget and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was on Vancouver Island this week to announce the allocation of $5.7 million in funding.

Three First Nations communities on the Island, the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni, the Quatsino First Nation in Coal Harbour and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in Tofino are among the 10 receiving financial support for stewardship of their lands.

"Guardians are, in a way, fulfilling their traditional role in monitoring and stewardship of the watersheds in our traditional territory," said Saya Masso, natural resources manager for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

"Our goals are to see our homelands managed for abundance really, that's the clearest mandate that we have mitigating environmental impacts."

Other First Nation communities in the province receiving funding for the stewardship program include:

  • The Tsilhqot'in Nation in Williams Lake. 
  • The Tahltan Nation in Dease Lake. 
  • The Fort Nelson First Nation.
  • The Nlaka'pamux Nation in Merritt. 
  • The Great Bear Initiative Society. 
  • The Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance.
  • The Kaska Dena Council in Lower Post.

The strategy comes after members of the Canadian Indigenous Leadership Initiative asked the federal government for $500 million for a national guardians program that would allow people in Indigenous communities across the country to monitor the land, preserve wildlife and maintain their culture.

McKenna said the community-led program is an effort toward reconciliation and connecting youth to the land through traditional knowledge.

"This is a very practical way that you can recognize that First Nations, Metis, Inuit peoples are extraordinarily close to lands, water, nature, animals, and they have a huge role in protecting it," she told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

Training and stewardship

Masso said guardians will work to see salmon stocks recovered, manage invasive species, conduct outreach and education and monitor the land as the planet faces the impacts of climate change.

The new funding will help each community train their guardians in oil spill response tactics, wilderness first-aid, environmental monitoring and more.

"It's been a long time coming. We've had a traditional role in this aspect for thousands of years and we finally… got the federal government to work with us, to have a presence in all of the coastline in all of B.C.," he told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

In his role, Masso said he sees many projects put aside due to lack of funding and is looking forward to reviewing which ones they can accomplish now they have more financial support.

"We know it's just getting started here, and we'd like to see a multi-year program going that actually sees these types of programs flourish."

With files from All Points West, The Early Edition

To hear the full interviews listen to media below:

Three Vancouver Island First Nations received funding for the Indigenous Guardian environmental stewardship program this week, along with 25 other communities nationally. 6:41
Three Vancouver Island First Nations received funding for the Indigenous Guardian environmental stewardship program this week, along with 25 other communities nationally. 8:49