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Leading the Way

What is driving the trend of emerging Indigenous-led initiatives? We asked our ESG 101 Contributors exactly that. Here's what they had to say on the subject.

Creative Fire

Throughout the world, companies have started to embrace Indigenous-led ESG initiatives as an opportunity to help preserve land, water, culture and language - a shift from earlier co-management efforts, which have often fallen short of addressing the immense environmental and social challenges at hand. Bringing Western and Indigenous knowledge systems together seems complicated, especially in a corporate setting and in environments where one framework trumps the other without true Collaboration.

Yet creating safe, ethical spaces that respect all knowledge systems is not only doable, it is an opportunity for incredible innovation. In Canada, many Indigenous Leaders and professionals are championing these initiatives. Working in close collaboration with organizations such as the Nature Conservatory of Canada and Parks Canada, Indigenous-led conservation projects such as the Land Guardian program are taking shape. Government policies and regulations are also moving in this direction, and the Canadian Environmental Regulatory (CER) Impact Assessment now ensures that "Indigenous Groups and local communities be involved in the independent oversight of monitoring and follow-up programs".

While there is great diversity Nation-to-Nation, Indigenous-led initiatives share many aspects, including the involvement of ceremony and spiritual decision-making in a project life cycle, as well as a focus on sharing stories. Corporate sustainability leaders looking to learn more about Indigenous knowledge relating to environmental stewardship or successful engagement with Indigenous-led initiatives can read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmer, Two-eyed Seeing by Elder Albert Marshall or These Mountains are Our Sacred Places by Chief John Snow Sr.

Creative Fire

Canada Climate Law Initiative

The opening Principle of the Government of Canada's "Principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples" is: "The Government of Canada recognizes that all relations with Indigenous peoples need to be based on the recognition and implementation of their right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government." These Principles are guided by the United Nation's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and informed by the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.

Reconciliation and respect of Indigenous rights and laws in Canada is long overdue. The result of the last 200 years of Canadian-Indigenous relations has been catastrophic and destructive.

As Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, General Counsel for the Haida Nation, Principal of White Raven Law and Co-Principal Investigator for the Canada Climate Law Initiative, wrote: "Indigenous Peoples have multi-faceted relationships with the land and sea that have developed over millennia. Climate change is the next wave of colonization. For example, Haida Gwaii has already experienced: rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, and ocean acidification that directly affects marine life; changing natural cycles that profoundly impacts seasonal rounds; and greater incidence of extreme storms that leads to increased coastal erosion, extended power and communication blackouts, and damage to homes, roads and infrastructure. In short, climate change threatens the future of Indigenous Peoples' existence and rights, making Canada's mandated reconciliation of sovereignties unattainable."



The concept of "co-development" has recently gained momentum, not only within Canadian policy conversations but within broader environmental and economic development endeavors. At its core, co-development emphasizes upfront collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups to make effective, context-appropriate, and resilient decisions. Co-development puts UNDRIP and Truth and Reconciliation into practice to nurture trust, honour Indigenous leadership and ways of knowing, and ultimately, advance shared goals.

With growing interest in measuring business success through the health of stakeholder relationships, it is likely that more business leaders will find the traditional, uni-directional "consultation" mechanisms of the past to be ineffective. For companies looking to make better decisions that feel co-owned by all those involved, co-development within and across Indigenous groups can be a helpful starting place.


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