Lessons From Down Under: Supporting Indigenous Stewardship

Above photo: From the Kimberley Land Council.

Indigenous Guardians across the country are managing lands and waters, protecting important animals like salmon and caribou and ensuring development occurs responsibly. We are caring for lands and waters we love on behalf of our Nations.

This work is good for the land, and it’s good for people too. Guardians programs provide local jobs rooted in culture and connections between youth and Elders. They transform people’s lives and strengthen our communities.

Investment in Indigenous-led conservation helps create these positive results—and with more investment we can expand them. Canada can look to Australia for a model of the proven benefits of long-term support.

Australia has invested in Indigenous-led conservation for over two decades, and the country is reaping the rewards.

There are 75 Indigenous Protected Areas across the country, and they account for nearly 50% of Australia’s national system of parks and conserved lands. Traditional Indigenous owners of the land identify areas to protect and then secure agreements with the federal government for conserving the land.

One-hundred and twenty-three Indigenous Ranger programs manage invasive species, monitor climate impacts, and operate tourist sites across Australia’s Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs).

This year’s devastating wildfires renewed interest in the Aboriginal fire management techniques that helped reduce blazes in northern Australia. Over the past decade, these Indigenous fire prevention programs have cut the number of destructive wildfires in half over the past decade, according to The New York Times.

The Australian government invested $840 million CAD in IPAs and Ranger programs from 2007 to 2023. The investment is paying off: researchers commissioned by Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found that every $1 invested in Indigenous conservation generates about $3 in social, economic, environmental, and cultural benefits.

These returns include improved public health, lowered income support, and reduced substance abuse, incarceration, and recidivism. Through Ranger programs, Indigenous communities can access professional training and employment opportunities tied to their land and culture.

Terrah Guymala, a senior ranger in the Warddeken IPA, spent time in jail as a young man. He found his calling as a Ranger, encouraging his people to return to the land and teaching stewardship to younger generations, he told researchers.

“Before we returned here, it was empty country; our old people would call it ‘orphaned country.’ The country was damaged by uncontrolled fires and there were buffalo everywhere. The land management and the IPA help us fix this,” Guymala said.

The programs also create new employment opportunities for Indigenous women and youth in rural areas where options were limited. Women now hold nearly half of all Ranger positions in Australia.

Canada can achieve similar success by making a sustained commitment to Indigenous-led conservation.

Supporting Indigenous stewardship—informed by thousands of years of knowledge and expertise—is one of the best ways to ensure we conserve lands and waterways, strengthen our communities, and renew relationships between Indigenous Nations and Canada.