Special Section: The challenges of decolonizing conservation, edited by Dan Brockington, Esteve Corbera and Sara Maestre-Andrés

Decolonial conservation: establishing Indigenous Protected Areas for future generations in the face of extractive capitalism

Authors: , , , ,


Extractive capitalism has long been the driving force of settler colonialism in Canada, and continues to threaten the sovereignty, lands and waters of Indigenous nations across the country. While ostensibly counterposed to extractivism, state-led conservation has similarly served to alienate Indigenous peoples from their territories, often for capitalist gain. Recognizing the inadequacy of the colonial-capitalist conservation paradigm to redress the biodiversity crisis, scholars in political ecology increasingly call for radical, convivial alternatives rooted in equity and justice. Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) are one such alternative, representing a paradigm shift from colonial to Indigenous-led conservation that reinvigorates Indigenous knowledge and governance systems. Since the Indigenous Circle of Experts finalized a report in 2018 on how IPCAs could contribute to Canada's conservation targets and reconciliation efforts, an increasing number of Indigenous stewardship initiatives across the country have been declared as IPCAs. These initiatives are assertions of Indigenous sovereignty, inherent rights, and responsibilities to their territories, as well as movements to rejuvenate biocultural conservation. Although Canada is supporting IPCAs through certain initiatives, the country's extractivist development model along with jurisdictional inconsistencies are undermining the establishment and long-term viability of many IPCAs. This paper explores two instances where Indigenous governments have established, or are establishing, IPCAs as novel strategies for land and water protection within long histories of resistance to colonial-capitalist exploitation. We argue that there is a paradoxical tension in Canadian conservation whereby Indigenous-led conservation is promoted in theory, while being undermined in practice. IPCAs offer glimpses of productive, alternative sustainabilities that move away from the colonial-capitalist paradigm, but are being challenged by governments and industries that still fail to respect Indigenous jurisdiction.

Keywords: Conservation, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), extractive industry, convivial conservation, Canada

How to Cite: Youdelis, M. , Townsend, J. , Bhattacharyya, J. , Moola, F. & Fobister, J. (2021) “Decolonial conservation: establishing Indigenous Protected Areas for future generations in the face of extractive capitalism”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.4716