Valérie Courtois is the founding director of Canada’s Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI), which prioritizes Indigenous-led conservation. In December 2022 ILI launched the First Nations Guardians Network with funding support from the Canadian federal government. The network connects ILI’s many disparate Indigenous guardian initiatives across the country, thereby helping share knowledge, support expert training, and create jobs to monitor and protect sensitive ecological and cultural areas.
What is the single most important action you think the public, or a specific company or government, needs to take in the next year to advance the climate agenda?
The most critical step governments, companies, and all of us can take is to reduce carbon emissions. And the most important motivating force for this action is love—love for the land, love for each other, and love for future generations. Indigenous-led approaches to stewardship reflect knowledge that’s often missing from mainstream society. Instead of viewing land as a resource to be exploited, Indigenous Peoples recognize that people and the land are interdependent: If we take care of the land, the land takes care of us. We must connect with this love so we can heal the planet.
What sustainability effort do you hope will gain popularity with the general public this year, and why?
Indigenous-led conservation of lands and waters is one of our most hopeful climate and social justice solutions. Research shows that land stewardship—often called nature-based climate solutions—can deliver one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. Indigenous Nations are leading the biggest, most ambitious projects for conserving lands in Canada—lands that store enormous amounts of carbon. Many of these projects are within the Boreal Forest, which holds up to 36 years’ worth of annual global carbon emissions. Supporting Indigenous Nations to sustain these lands will help ensure the carbon remains stored in the ground.
Where should climate activism go in the next year?
We all benefit if climate activism expands to respect and amplify the leadership of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have been caring for our lands for millennia. Surely, we have values, insights, and strategies to offer the global community with respect to how to be a part of and take care of our environment. Incorporating this knowledge into climate activism and broadening support for Indigenous-led solutions is essential right now. It will help people and the land heal from ecological crises and colonization. It will help more lands remain healthy and able to store carbon. And it will help restore the planet.
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