Aboriginal stewardship: a better way to save the Mountain Caribou.

AuthorHunter, Troy
PositionSpecial Report on Aboriginal Law and the Environment - Cover story

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The original environmentalists are the indigenous peoples, who have thousands of years' worth of traditional knowledge. They are stewards of the environment, the land, animals, and water systems. The First Nations in Canada all seem to share the same fundamental notion that environmental stewardship has belonged to them since time immemorial, as a God-given aboriginal right. There are indigenous laws related to this notion and those laws are legally and constitutionally to be accorded respect, as any other valid law in Canada.

When Section 35(1) of The Constitution Act 1982 was made, it provided for the constitutional protection of aboriginal and treaty rights. Since then, a number of aboriginal rights cases have been decided at the Supreme Court of Canada. While self-government has not been fully realized, it is recognized that pre-existing indigenous legal systems are ah inherent right based on the fact that aboriginal people were living in organized societies with their own traditional laws and customs in place long before first contact with Europeans. One such First Nation, the Kmnaxa who live in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, Idaho and Montana, has its own self-governing natural law of stewardship embedded within its oral history.

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The story goes that the Ktunaxa made a sacred covenant with the Creator that they will be the stewards of all the land and resources within their traditional territory, and in return, that they shall be given all of the necessities of life. Most other First Nations share similar stewardship obligations. In 1997, the Ktunaxa, through the Kootenai Culture Committee in Montana, published in a book titled Ktunaxa Legends with mention of the Sacred Covenant:

For thousands of years the Ktunaxa have honored a covenant with the Creator to protect their extensive homelands by serving as the true guardians of the region. In exchange for this service the Ktunaxa were granted sustenance through the use of the abundant resources in the area. Since time immemorial, the Ktunaxa people have coexisted with Mother Earth 's creations in their natural habitat. Even today, Ktunaxa stewardship requires the utmost respect and protection for all elements of the natural world. As guardians, Ktunaxa people believe that life has little value without a true appreciation of the integrity of the environment and a genuine regard for all that is sacred. The Ktunaxa are mountain people...

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