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Old Treaties and New Alliances Empower Native Tribes


Kirk Johnson

Writer, The New York Times

November 2016

The simmering standoff between the police and Native Americans and their allies who oppose a giant oil pipeline project in North Dakota is the most visible sign of an emerging movement that is shifting the debate about how public lands across North America should be managed.

From the rocky, pebbled beaches north of Seattle, where the Lummi Nation has led the fight against a proposed coal terminal, to southern Utah, where a coalition of tribes is demanding management rights over a proposed new national monument, to the tiny wooded community of Bella Bella, British Columbia, 350 miles north of the United States border, Native Americans are asserting old treaty rights and using tribal traditions to protect and manage federally owned land.

“If you want to own it, you have to act like you own it,” said Kelly Brown, the director of resource management for the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella. The Heiltsuk pressed the Canadian government for joint management of the local herring fishery and won this year through a campaign of sit-ins and political lobbying.

A Note From Our Global Leader

For more than ten years, The Nature Conservancy has partnered with Indigenous Peoples and local communities across 27 countries to help them improve the management and conservation of nearly 235 million acres of their lands. One of the landscapes where the Conservancy works with closely on these issues is the Great Bear Rainforest on the mainland coast of British Columbia. At 21 million acres, it is part of the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest on the planet.

But the forest is not untouched, for Indigenous Peoples like the Heiltsuk have been living on this land for thousands of years. Earlier this year, the Heiltsuk people reached an agreement—alongside 26 other First Nation partners—with the forestry industry, conservationists and the provincial government to secure long-term sustainable management and protection of 19 million acres of this ancient landscape.

Through partnerships like these, the Conservancy hopes to transform the way land and water decisions are made by strengthening the voice, choice and action of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to shape and manage natural territory in a way that improves lives and drives conservation.

Read more of my thoughts on conservation in the Emerald Edge here.

Originally Posted on The New York Times

November 16, 2016