Five prominent leaders in Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship have been named to the inaugural council of the First Nations National Guardians Network. The council will guide the launch of the Network in late 2022 and set it on a path to supporting Guardians for years to come.

Together council members will build a National Guardians Network that will help get more Guardians on the ground. It will create an easier, more streamlined process for accessing Guardians funds. And it will provide an Indigenous-led approach to working with Crown governments and other funding partners.

One of the council’s top priorities will be laying the groundwork for shifting the management of First Nations Guardians funds from the federal government to the Network. They will do this with a deep understanding of the challenges First Nations face and the value of First Nations approaches to caring for lands and waters.

“The council is part of an exciting transformation,” said Valérie Courtois, Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI). “We are shifting from the old model where Crown governments deliver a program to First Nations Peoples. Instead, the Network will be led, designed, and managed by First Nations representatives in partnership with Crown counterparts. This new way of working together can be applied on other files across governments. It’s good for Indigenous Nationhood. And it’s good for Canada.”

This work grows out of the Guardians pilot process, in which $25 million over 5 years for Indigenous Guardians was included in the 2017 federal budget. In September 2018, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the ILI created the First Nations-Federal Pilot Joint Working Group for Guardians. It includes eight First Nations Knowledge Keepers and four federal representatives. The Joint Working Group has established criteria for future funding of Guardian programs, a training framework, and a proposed structure for the national Network.

The Joint Working Group will continue to advise the council. It will assess applications for Guardians funding in the next year, so council members can focus on preparing for the launch of the Network and hiring an executive director.

“These council members are visionaries who will help design a new approach to First Nations and Crown government partnerships,” said Courtois. “The benefits of the Network will be felt in First Nations across the country.”

The timing of the council’s establishment gained added significance recently. In June, Canada announced it will welcome an influential global summit for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal this December. This will shine an international spotlight on work underway in Canada – including the Guardians who are at the forefront of sustaining biodiversity across this country. The council and the emerging national Network can amplify the central role that Indigenous-led conservation plays in caring for the animals, plants and all the natural systems we depend upon.

The Council Members

The council members were chosen for their extensive experience and leadership in building organizations. Collectively they have over 100 years of working with Guardians programs. Members of the Guardians community nominated potential members, and the Indigenous Leadership Initiatives’ Senior Leaders made the final selection.

One of the council’s responsibilities will be to establish a voting process so Network members can vote on the next representatives at the end of this first term.

Guujaaw, Secretariat of the Haida Nation

Guujaaw is a Raven of the Haida Nation, his clan is the Gakyaals Kiigawaay of Skedans, Haida Gwaii. He has a long history as a Rights, Title and Earth Advocate. He was a founding member and served as the president of Coastal First Nations and spent many years with the Council of the Haida Nation including 13 years as President of the Haida Nation. Today he serves as a Hereditary leader.

Melody Lepine, Director of Government & Industry Relations, Mikisew Cree First Nation

Melody Lepine has been working for her nation since 2003 and is mandated to lead all consultation matters pertaining to natural resource development within the Mikisew Cree’s Treaty 8 territory. She is very passionate about her stewardship role and notes her significant accomplishments has been the development of their land use plan that supported the creation of the recent Kitaskino Nuwenëné wildland park, a significant conservation area within the Athabasca Oil Sands region. She also oversees the Mikisew community based environmental monitoring program that continues to monitor the ecological health of the Peace-Athabasca Delta within Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Herb Norwegian, Edéhzhíe Management Board, Dehcho First Nations

Herb Norwegian is a traditional knowledge holder and Edéhzhíe harvester from Rabbitskin and is known for his roles in governance, land use planning, and Indigenous Protected Areas advocacy. He is the chair for the Edéhzhíe Management Board and is also a member of the Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee. [Update: Herb Norwegian stepped down from the Council soon after he was re-elected Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations in 2022.]

Gillian Staveley, Director of Culture and Land Stewardship for Dena Kayeh Institute (DKI)

Gillian Staveley is a Kaska Dena citizen whose heritage lies in the Muncho Lake region of Dena Kēyeh in Northern British Columbia. She is passionate about promoting and educating others about the importance of multi-generational Indigenous knowledge. In her work as a director for DKI, a Kaska-run charitable organization, she helps tell the story of Kaska Stewardship within her traditional territory and works to ensure that relationships with her people and the land are done so through UNDRIP’s obligations and commitments.

Marjolaine Tshernish, Directrice Générale, Institut Tshakapesh

Marjolaine Tshernish is a member of the Innu community of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, on the North shore of the St. Lawrence River. As Director General for the Tshakapesh Institute, she is responsible for ensuring the mission of the organization, which serves all communities of the Nation Innue, safeguarding and promoting Innu culture and the Innu Language and ensuring the preservation of natural heritage, linguistic development and encouraging artistic expression.

Ex Officio Council Members

The council includes three ex officio members—people who provide advice but do not have voting privileges.

  • Curtis Scurr, Assembly of First Nations
  • Julie Boucher, Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Shaunna Morgan Siegers, Indigenous Leadership Initiative
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