On Feb. 3 group of Australian indigenous rangers and a came to Yellowknife to speak with Canadian Indigenous groups to provide insight on the various land governance program models and to enjoy Canadian north with some dog sledding and snowmobiling.
The group came from 40C weather to -40C but despite the shock, they enjoyed their first experiences dog sledding.
“This is the kind of thing you only see in movies back home,” David Ross, head of the Central Land Council in Australia, said.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how people have lived here. What a feeling,” Ross said.
After a day of dog sledding and a long night of snowmobiling and aurora chasing, the group was invited dinner at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre put on by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative on Feb.4 to demonstrate the success their ranger program have seen.
In Australia, land governance programs run by Indigenous groups have seen great success. With 17 per cent of Australian land being protected, half of that land is managed by Indigenous land councils.
“Many areas in Australia become subject to invasive and noxious weeds and wildlife as well as wild fires,” Patrick O’Leary, of PEW Charitable Trust in Australia. “The rangers are hired to come in and perform managed burns and destroying invasive species to protect biodiversity and generally be stewards of the land.”
Dean Yibarbuk, a ranger with Warddeken Land Management, says that although the land management programs are relatively recent, the results have been positive.
“Initially the government was not involving Indigenous people, but since they have started our people are finding jobs working with their land,” Yibarbuk said.
The work of the Indigenous Rangers has inspired the motto “People need country and country needs people” which speaks to the need for need for Australia as a whole to employ the knowledge of Indigenous stewards to protect the landscape.
“When we say ‘country’ we mean it in the sense that an Indigenous person in Canada would mean when they say ‘territory,’” O’Leary said. “Australia has hundreds of these countries. Currently 118 separate land management groups with nearly 3000 people employed under the ranger program.”
Dennis Rose of the Budj Bim Rangers spoke to how these land management groups provide far more than jobs alone.
“These programs protect biodiversity but also promote cultural responsibility,” Rose said. “People are gaining responsibility in land management instead having it taken away. There’s a lot of pride in that.”
According to O’Leary, these programs have significant financial benefits as well as social. Every $1 invested by the government has seen a return in value of up to $3 and the Australian federal government has invested $804 million CAD. In Canada $500 million has been invested to reach 17 per cent of our lands protected by 2020.
“The programs are constructive for communities and this value is created because there are less people using social assistance, there’s reduced health spending and it’s keeping people out of jail which is reducing justice costs,” O’Leary said.
The Australian envoy’s visit was help made possible by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative and they were accompanied by the ILI’s Steven Nitah, who is a lead negotiator for Lutsel K’e Dene First Nations.
“Our visitors have a strong message for all Canadians,” Nitah said. “Their land management programs are not just a social program, it’s an investment. In Australia they’ve seen large returns on the money their federal government has invested. That’s how it needs to be approached to get people on board here.”
Their presentation was received by Chief Ernest Betsina of the Yellowknives Dene and representatives from Dehcho First Nations, Sahtu Dene Council among others where the Austrians were given a presentations on Indigenous land governance programs in Canada.