About 30 Indigenous Nations and communities have launched Indigenous Guardians programs to help manage traditional territories. Indigenous Guardians serve as stewards on the land. They study wildlife, test water quality and monitor industrial projects like mines, forestry and commercial fisheries. They engage with industry and government partners. And they draw on both Indigenous and western science.

Guardian programs also help connect youth with elders, the land and their cultures. Young guardians receive advanced training in everything from GIS mapping to traditional hunting techniques. They get to embrace their Indigenous identity at the same time they prepare to become future educators, scientists, lawyers, chiefs and legislators.

But it’s not just young people who benefit. Researchers have documented that having guardians on the land strengthens communities. A case study looking at two guardian programs, the Dehcho K’ehodi of the and Ni Hat’ni Dene in the Northwest Territories, found that for every $1 invested in the programs, they deliver about $2.50 of social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits. The researchers estimated that steady funding could generate up to $3.7 for every $1 of investment.

In 2016, the Government of Canada made an initial investment of $25 million over five years in Indigenous Guardians’ work. This seed funding will help develop a National Indigenous Guardians Network and prepare Indigenous Nations and communities to launch their own guardian programs. It will also help prepare another generation to care for the land.  

“We are sustaining our traditional territory not only for us but for the whole world,” said Gloria Enzo, the director of the Ni Hat’ni Dene program. “Our ecosystem is so pure, we have so many trees that we are cleaning up a lot of pollution… We are protecting Mother Earth in order for the rest of the world to live on her.”