Did you know that biodiversity is best protected by Indigenous managed or co-managed land? This blog post will offer a brief overview of Indigenous land rights and will review two recent examples of Indigenous land rights issues in Canada. The post will conclude with a discussion of the importance of understanding Indigenous Land Rights when engaging in environmental action.
What are Indigenous Land Rights?
Indigenous Land Rights link a particular territory of land and a respective Indigenous Nation. This linkage is the basis of defining peoples as Indigenous and recognizes that Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop, and control their own lands. This means that Indigenous communities have the fundamental right to manage the land and protect the biodiversity of the land according to their own practices.
For many Indigenous cultures, land means more than territory: it encompasses culture, relationships, ecosystems, social systems, spirituality, and law. This understanding of land predated European contact and colonization. Within these cultures, land means the earth, the water, the air, and all that live within these ecosystems. Indigenous rights are inherent. They are a result of Indigenous peoples’ own relationship with their home territories and eco-systems, and the social, political and legal structures that exist within these territories.
Throughout Canadian history, colonial violence has dispossessed Indigenous communities of their land and infringed on Indigenous land rights. An example of this form of injustice is currently happening in Nova Scotia, and has been coined by the media as the “Nova Scotia Lobster Feud”. This decades-long case of colonial violence came to a head in recent months, resulting in countless acts of vandalism and violence towards the Mi’kmaq peoples who live in Nova Scotia. Since the signing of the Peace and Friendship Treaties in the 1700’s, which have been codified under Section 35 and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, Mi’kmaq have a right to harvest fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes and a right to fish for a moderate livelihood. In accordance with these inherent land rights, the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched its own fishery in September 2020 along the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia. Its fishers set out an estimated 250 traps, which is the equivalent of one commercial boat, or one per cent of the conventional commercial number of traps.
Commercial fishers immediately responded to this with claims that fishing in this area during September, the off season, was illegal and a threat to maintaining healthy lobster stocks. Scientists specializing in fisheries, fishery economics, and marine policy, have found no evidence supporting these claims. Fishing during the off season has been done successfully by fishing regions in other countries. Take Maine for example, a state that runs a lobster fishery all year round. This case is not over a matter of conservation, but rather an infringement on Indigenous land rights.
Cases of colonial violence and land dispossession have happened across Canada throughout our history and currently across the country. Another case of injustice towards Indigenous peoples that is much closer to home is the standoff that is occurring at 1492 Landback Lane in Caledonia, Ontario. October 26th marked the 100th day of the beginning of the occupation at what Haudenosaunee land defenders have called 1492 Land Back Lane. At this site, Foxgate Developments is planning to build a 218-unit subdivision called McKenzie Meadows. This very land that Foxgate Developments purchased for $4 million dollars from a private party has actually been Six Nations territory since 1784. Again, it is evident that this is clearly an attack on Indigenous land rights and demonstrates use of colonial violence to dispossess Indigenous communities of their land.
How does this relate to the environment?
In order to effectively engage in environmental action, we must always support and respect Indigenous rights and Indigenous land management. Truth and reconciliation are essential for Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous sovereignty is essential for fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity. Respecting Indigenous land rights is environmentalism in action. It is important to support Indigenous land rights with meaningful action, and not just words. There are many ways that non-Indigenous folks can become involved in reconciliation. Recognizing and honouring treaty responsibilities is one important step.
As with all new topics, a good starting point is to educate yourself on the issue at hand. Several online resources document and explain the ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. , and outline what truth and reconciliation entails. Here are a few very informative online resources that you may find helpful to start with: Reconciliation Canada, Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., and a guide on Indigenous land rights from Amnesty International.
Organizations across Canada are working towards reconciliation. You can support organizations across Canada that are working towards reconciliation. Here are a few local organizations: Atlohsa Family Healing Services, N’Amerind Friendship Centre, Yotuni Charitable Initiative, and We Matter.
These groups work with Indigenous people to shed light on ongoing injustice, and to elevate Indigenous voices. One way to help in the reconciliation process is to help these groups do their vital work by offering a donation. According to Statistics Canada, in 2007 Canadians donated $10 billion dollars to charitable institutions. Yet little of this funding finds its way to Indigenous communities. Before donating, it is always good to research the goals of the organizations you are interested in. More information on how to pick an Indigenous led organization can be found here.
If you didn’t know about The Truth and Reconciliation process, there is a good chance that the people around you may not know what it is either. You can do your part to help raise awareness about reconciliation by engaging in conversations with your friends and family. Here are a few ways you can start the conversation about truth and reconciliation and Indigenous land rights with your friends and family:
In order to understand truth and reconciliation, we must first understand why it is necessary. One way to start the conversation is to acknowledge the facts. You can do this by reading over this article that offers a brief intro to what truth and reconciliation is, and why it is needed.
Another way to spark conversation is to watch videos about truth and reconciliation with your friends and family. Watch this Ted Talk called Healing a Nation Through Truth and Reconciliation by Dr Robert Joseph.
A great way to foster a collaborative learning environment with family and friends is to start a book club. By doing so, you can each take time to read about topics surrounding truth and reconciliation, and then come together to discuss what you learned from the book. Here is a list of books that contain information about Indigenous history, and truth and reconciliation:
- 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act by Bob Joseph - Click here to rent this book from the library
- Indigenous Relations: insights, tips & suggestions to make reconciliation a reality by Bob Joseph and Cynthia F. Joseph - Click here to rent this book from the library
- The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King - Click here to rent this book from the library
- Price Paid by Bez Sellars - Click here to rent this book from the library
- Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga - Click here to rent this book from the library
4. Acknowledge & Action
In order to begin to understand truth and reconciliation, we must first acknowledge the history behind the land that we currently inhabit. We can do this by conducting a land acknowledgement. Land acknowledgements help us to understand the longstanding history that brought us to reside on this land, and help us to understand our place in that history. For more information on how to conduct a land acknowledgement, please visit this resource. It is important to follow acknowledgement with action and commitment to change, so make sure you determine what your next actionable step is after acknowledging the land and water. If you would like to see an example of what a land acknowledgement can look like, you can read the London Environmental Network’s land acknowledgement here, and you can also check out the Western University land acknowledgement here.
While engaging in environmental advocacy, it is important to explore the many ways that Indigenous communities engage in environment and land preservation that often go unnoticed. A study from UBC found that the total numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are the highest on lands managed or co-managed by Indigenous communities! You can also explore the Indigenous territories of Canada using this interactive map.
- 1492 Land Back Lane: Respect for Indigenous land protectors
- A Brief Timeline of the History of Indigenous Relations in Canada
- As standoff at ‘1492 Land Back Lane’ heats up in Caledonia, land defenders say, ‘This is a moment for our people to say no’
- Biodiversity highest on Indigenous-managed lands
- Healing a Nation Through Truth and Reconciliation
- Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians agree on need for reconciliation: national report
- Introduction to Residential Schools
- Land Rights and Claims
- Land & Rights
- Mi’kmaw lobster fishery ‘doesn’t pose any conservation risk’
- Nova Scotia lobster dispute: Mi’kmaq fishery isn’t a threat to conservation, say scientists
- ‘Pushed to the Edge’: The land rights of indigenous peoples in Canada
- Reconciliation and Donating to Indigenous Organizations
- What are land acknowledgements and why do they matter?
This blog post was contributed by Maddy Hendriksen. Maddy is a Social Justice and Peace Studies Student at King's University College. For her term placement with the London Environmental Network, she is writing a series of blog posts about environmental justice topics of which this article is a part of, called Environmentalism in Action.
About the Environmentalism in Action Blog Series
Through the Environmentalism in Action blog series, the London Environmental Network aims to share information on social and environmental justice issues, highlight local case studies and local resources, and share ways individuals can continue to educate themselves and take action in their communities. The London Environmental Network acknowledges the impacts of colonization and Western environmentalism, and is committed to working in collaboration towards creating a community and city that is resilient, vibrant, and just for all.