Australia's Aboriginal Stewardship Models Brought to Canada


Brandon MacGillis, 202.887.8830, Australia Program  
Paul Sheridan, 04.10.516.656, Australia Program, Australia Contact


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  • Download the tour itinerary here (PDF) and participant biographies here (PDF).


Read the statement from the Australian government

Indigenous Rangers to share conservation initiatives with First Nations

The Canadian boreal forest and the Australian Outback, two contrasting landscapes on opposite sides of the globe, face similar challenges for protecting these vast, remote, and environmentally vital lands. Now Australians are taking two precedent setting, culturally sensitive stewardship models to Canada.

In a nine-day tour—with stops in Vancouver, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Ottawa—members of Australia's Indigenous Rangers program, along with representatives from Parks Australia and the Pew Environment Group—Australia, will meet with Canadian federal, First Nations, and provincial leaders. On the tour, which begins Oct. 29, the delegation will share successes and insights that could provide First Nations advantages in the stewardship of their traditional territories.

“When it comes to creating successful models for indigenous land stewardship, Canadians could learn from our colleagues Down Under,” said Larry Innes, an adviser to the Canadian Boreal Initiative, the Pew Environment Group's partner in the Canadian boreal protection campaign. “The Australian experience provides some exciting practical examples of indigenous territory management, as well as new approaches to protected areas that we believe could be implemented here in Canada.”

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) have been created in more than 50 locales by Australian Aboriginal people on their traditional lands. Similar to national parks, IPAs protect unique landscapes, plants, and animals, but are managed using traditional methods by their indigenous owners, under contract with the Australian government. In addition to conservation, these areas maintain traditional culture, bring indigenous owners back to their land, and allow skills development and employment.

Click to download a map of IPAs

Indigenous protected areas

Currently, 51 IPAs cover 36 million hectares (almost 89 million acres), or 25 percent of Australia's National Reserve System.

The Australian government's IPA program funds Aboriginal communities to support IPA establishment and management and aims to create 40 percent more of these areas over the next five years—an increase of at least 8 million hectares (almost 19.8 million acres).

“The programs support Australia's indigenous peoples to actively express their culture and strong desire to be living on and managing their lands,” said Patrick O'Leary, Conservation Partnerships Manager of the Australia program for the Pew Environment Group. “These programs are providing much needed job and training opportunities in remote and often disadvantaged regions.”

Indigenous-owned land in Australia represents roughly 22 percent (170 million hectares, or 420 million acres) of Australia, including large areas of some of the most biodiverse and highest conservation-value areas on the continent.

Australia's Indigenous Ranger program was pioneered by Aboriginal people as a way to actively manage and protect their traditional land and seas. They are similar to conventional park rangers in some ways, managing areas to control threats such as wildfires, exotic weeds and feral animals, but unique in that they combine their local traditional knowledge and culture with Western science in a ‘two-toolbox' approach to protecting the environment. This program results not only in environmental benefit, but also economic and social improvements for indigenous communities by providing much-needed jobs in remote regions. The federal government's Working on Country program employs roughly 680 Indigenous Rangers in 90 teams across Australia.

Many Canadian First Nations have expressed interest in comparing approaches with their Australian counterparts. The Australian delegation will meet with Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of Quebec's Grand Council of the Crees, which signed a historic pact between Quebec and the Cree Nation this summer, as well as other Aboriginal and government leaders across the country. This tour will take the Australian delegation as far north as Yellowknife to meet with First Nations leaders about the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.

Indigenous-owned land in Australia represents roughly 22 percent of Australia, including large areas of some of the most biodiverse and highest conservation-value areas on the continent.

“First Nations have knowledge and expertise built over millennia about their lands,” said Innes. “The Australian examples could empower First Nations and Aboriginal groups to continue to exercise stewardship over Canada's vast boreal forest in ways that Canadians can actively support.”

Canada's boreal is the largest intact forest in the world, the most significant source of carbon storage and unfrozen freshwater, and home to abundant has abundant wildlife. Over recent years, the Pew Environment Group and Canadian partners have worked with industry, First Nations, and federal and provincial governments to increase protection of this spectacular region.

Australia's Outback is one of the few places on Earth where nature remains vast, wild, and abundant. The Outback region ranks first among all countries for the total number of native mammal and reptile species. But it requires ongoing management, now increasingly applied by its indigenous people, in new forms of cross-cultural environmental management.