Strategies for a Living Earth: Examples from Canadian Aboriginal Communities

Prepared by Natasha Blanchet-Cohen
for the Biodiversity Convention Office, Environment Canada (1996).

Introduction
Aboriginal peoples today are looking to restore and regain control over their environment. In the process, they are breaking new ground by undertaking interesting and innovative initiatives aimed at protecting biodiversity in a holistic manner.

Traditional teachings and practices play an important role in decision making, and serve as a foundation for efforts to rebuild native communities. Their ancient relationship with the land has given indigenous peoples a profound knowledge of the living earth. In the indigenous world view, all parts of the universe are interconnected. Every living creature, whether bird, animal, tree or plant, lives according to the instructions it was given by its creator. The conservation of biodiversity is an integral part of indigenous teachings.

Although native peoples have made important intellectual and technical contributions to society in such areas as food, economy, science, medicine and politics, these have gone largely unrecognized. It is only recently that international and national bodies have begun to accept that these people possess unique and invaluable knowledge about the environment and resource
management.

Many people see economic development and biodiversity as mutually exclusive. The strategies aboriginal communities are currently pursuing to combine the two suggest that this need not be the case. Their efforts to realize sustainable development and self-sufficiency can serve as an inspiration to the rest of the world, which is urgently looking for ways to restore the harmony of the living earth.

As illustrated in the following case studies, native peoples stress the importance of putting biodiversity into a broader context— one that requires a holistic approach involving work both inside and outside the community. As such, native biodiversity programs have many components—including initiatives to heal the community, create jobs, promote the health of the ecosystem, build awareness and form new alliances— all of which are necessary to maintaining biodiversity. The fact that this formidable task is undertaken with such zeal is proof of the commitment these communities have made to regaining control over their environment.

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