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UBC Okanagan paper highlights need to decolonize endangered species recovery

The paper calls for a shift after caribou recovery failed to meet the needs of Indigenous community
(Black Press file photo)

A new paper from UBC Okanagan that was published in Science magazine discusses the gap between what the government deems to be a sustainable population of animals, like caribou, and what is considered to be a meaningful abundance of animals for the Indigenous people living on the land.

A collaborative project involving UBC Okanagan researcher Clayton Lamb, PhD, and West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson explored the differences between the federal government’s guidelines and goals for animal populations and how they contrast the values and needs of First Nations people.

“There is a big gap between a minimum sustainable population and a culturally significant recovery,” said Lamb.

The realization that even restorative efforts must be de-colonized came after the endangered Klinse-Za caribou herd near the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations rebounded after a multi-disciplinary intervention.

READ MORE: Indigenous-led conservation and UBCO research save caribou

Despite surpassing the target number of 100 caribou, the population size was still insufficient for the local First Nations community’s traditional practices.

Lamb explained that once the milestone of 100 animals was achieved, in the eyes of the federal government, the project was a success and was over.

The paper, titled ‘Braiding Indigenous rights and endangered species law,’ discusses how the government’s black and white guidelines for sustainable population size does not account culturally meaningful aspects of First Nations practices like hunting.

The culturally significant count would require a herd to grow to an abundance more reflective of the historic “sea of caribou” level, nearing 3,000 animals, that Elders remember.

The paper also examined efforts to restore salmon and bison habitat in North America. Chief Willson says each species shows modest signs of recovery, but that isn’t nearly the progress needed.

“We need to move past a life support mentality for biodiversity,” says Adam Ford, head of UBCO’s Wildlife Restoration Ecology Lab, who has published previous papers on the herd of caribou.

“We must restore nature and the time-honoured ways people interact with the land.”

Lamb hopes that this paper is a step in the right direction to decolonize what endangered species recovery looks like.


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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