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Why did Indigenous-led conservation funding set off furious backlash from First Nations?

March 4, 2024

Canada gave $1.33 million to the Métis Nation of Ontario to protect land. But not everyone agrees the group should be the one protecting it.

Ontario First Nations, including Temagami First Nation, are voicing opposition to conservation funding granted to the Métis Nation of Ontario who, they argue, do not have a founded claim to the land they plan to protect. Photo: Temagami First Nation

The Narwhal: On Jan. 26, Environment and Climate Change Canada made the kind of announcement usually met by widespread approval: $12.8 million toward 27 “Indigenous-led natural climate solutions” across Canada. 

It was the latest move by the federal government to support Indigenous conservation, a key pillar of achieving its goal of protecting 30 per cent of the lands and waters in Canada by 2030. More than $1.6 billion in federal commitments have been made to Indigenous-led conservation since 2018.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada is committed to supporting the leadership of Indigenous Peoples to help conserve ecosystems, protect Indigenous cultures and develop sustainable economies for our collective future generations,” the announcement read. 

But among the 27 funding recipients, one has sparked a furious response, particularly from First Nations in Ontario: the Métis Nation of Ontario, which received $1.33 million for “acquiring 40 hectares of wetlands for long-term conservation” as well as “the development of a Métis culture and language camp that will focus on land-based education.” It’s the largest grant by far in this funding round, and the only one awarded to a Métis project.  

In its press release about the grant, the Métis Nation of Ontario affirmed its mandate to “protect and preserve the land and waters within our homelands for future generations” and says by funding its project, the government is “supporting the Métis Nation of Ontario in doing just that.”

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Michelle Cyca

Michelle Cyca is a journalist and editor from Vancouver, and a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6.