A letter from Grizzly Bear Foundation's Director of Indigenous-Led Conservation, Richard Sparrow.
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As an Indigenous person and the Director of Indigenous-led Conservation with the Grizzly Bear Foundation, I stand at the forefront of a pivotal moment for the future of wildlife conservation in British Columbia. The province's draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework, currently open for public comment, presents a momentous opportunity to redefine our relationship with grizzly bears and the ecosystems they roam.
Firstly, the Framework marks a significant departure from traditional wildlife management towards a more holistic and inclusive strategy of wildlife stewardship. This shift reflects an acknowledgment that our responsibility no longer lies in managing wildlife populations for the purpose of enhancing hunting opportunities. The status quo of a system built upon colonial values of domination and exploitation of nature is far out of step with public attitudes today - attitudes based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and compassion for the well-being of individual animals. Grizzlies are not a predator to be managed for the benefit of game populations, but an iconic keystone species to be stewarded for all their intrinsic, cultural, and ecological values.
This Framework is a step forward in recognizing that Indigenous communities have stewarded this ecological and cultural keystone species for countless generations, and their wisdom is invaluable in shaping effective conservation strategies.
Secondly, the Province has made promising progress in their commitments to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Throughout the Framework process, the Province has engaged several Indigenous leaders and First Nations, recognizing their intrinsic connection to the land and the ancient stewardship and profound cultural values they hold for grizzly bears. By incorporating First Nations values and perspectives, the Framework begins to embody the spirit of reconciliation. This collaboration lays the groundwork for the protection and restoration of grizzly bear populations alongside safeguarding and revitalizing Indigenous cultural fabric interwoven across ancestral lands.
However, while 32 nations have participated in the engagement process many more voices are needed to follow through on this good work. And while the BC Government deserves credit for fostering inclusivity, a critical concern emerges from the lack of a clear definition for "stewardship" within the Framework. Stewardship is more than just a buzzword; it's a philosophy that requires a comprehensive responsibility and understanding of the interconnectedness between species, ecosystems, and people. Without a concrete definition, the Framework risks losing its potency, becoming a mere bureaucratic exercise.
Additionally, the framework's regional structure could potentially exacerbate fractures in government-to-government relations with First Nations, as these structures may not align with Indigenous laws or established geographic traditional processes. A clearer understanding of how these proposed structures relate to the development of Indigenous law and governance is essential to avoiding unintended conflicts and to fostering a truly collaborative approach to grizzly bear stewardship that respects and integrates Indigenous perspectives and practices.
We stand on the cusp of a new era in conservation, one that harmonizes our aspirations to protect and restore this beautiful land in a way that respects and furthers reconciliation.
The Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework has the potential to be a world leading document at a time of extraordinary challenges in the face of climate and ecological crises. Let us seize this moment for present and future generations and establish a new path forward for wildlife conservation.
hay čxʷ q̓ə
Director of Indigenous-Led Conservation
Grizzly Bear Foundation
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