Canada needs Indigenous-led programmes to save the iconic woodland caribou

OTTAWA. DEC. 17, 2015: Indigenous-led initiatives to protect declining caribou herds across the boreal region are dynamic, responsive and effective. They should be embraced by governments, industry and other land users as Canada struggles to reverse the declines in one of its most iconic animals.

That is the central message in Indigenous communities leading the way for woodland caribou recovery in Canada – a 2015 review of indigenous-led action plans conducted by the Boreal Leadership Council – a coalition of resource companies, financial institutions, First Nations and conservation organizations, and two First Nations-directed non-profit organizations – the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources and the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

“We have a new government that is faced with a massive backlog of work that needs to be done on Species at Risk, with caribou one of the most well documented cases. We also have communities on the ground who have the knowledge, skills, desire and the cultural responsibility to help protect these animals,” said Valérie Courtois, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

“The new government has committed itself to a new relationship with Indigenous peoples, so there is a unique opportunity to finally take advantage of what Indigenous communities have to offer and truly begin to address caribou conservation in the north,” said Ms. Courtois. “The question is not should we do this, but rather, when will we work more closely and effectively with these natural guardians of the land.”

The review looks at how Indigenous communities not only have the most at stake when it comes to preserving these herds, but also the most to offer in terms of local science and knowledge and the ability to implement, manage and monitor programmes “on the land.”

It found these communities have been quicker to act because their harvesters and elders noticed declines before anyone else and their close connection with the land means they are keenly attuned to early warnings of changes in the environment.

“Modern Western science is important, but traditional science and knowledge are a key factor in developing, implementing and managing caribou initiatives and should be fully embraced by industry and federal, provincial and territorial governments,” said Jessie DeGrave, Project Manager, Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources.

The review found that Indigenous-led initiatives tend to be more dynamic and responsive, adapting to new information, conditions, collaborations and capacity as they arise.

“They are in place in these mostly remote areas, and have been stewards of these lands and habitats for millennia,” said Ms. DeGrave. “They know what is happening, when it is happening and what needs to be done, long before remote monitoring and management are able to detect and respond by themselves.”

It is also very important to note that these communities make major sacrifices in terms of their traditional way of life and sustenance, which are highly dependent on caribou, in order to try to reverse declines that were not of their making.

“When caribou harvesting has been limited or eliminated in the interest of protecting the herd population size, they are in effect putting their lives and cultures on hold to ensure further decline would be prevented as responsible stewards of the land,” said Ms. DeGrave.

“Our hope is this report will help practitioners and planners working on caribou action in Canada’s boreal and encourage collaboration and cooperation amongst communities, companies and governments in the planning and development of various recovery strategies, incorporation of Indigenous-led caribou management initiatives, and capacity building,” said Ms. DeGrave.

The review details the work of nine Indigenous-led programmes, and more than a dozen reports. The communities were: Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, MB; Little Red River Cree Nation, AB; Saulteau First Nation, BC; Dawson First Nation (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in), YT; Ta’an Kwach’an Council, YT; Fort McKay First Nation, AB; Kaska Nation, BC; West Moberly First Nations, BC; Carcross Tagish First Nation, YT.

The full report and a summary can be found at:

Media: For interviews please contact:

Valérie Courtois, Director, ILI: 709-899-0578

Jessie DeGrave, Project Manager, Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources. Phone: 204-956-0660 ext. 4. Email: