Canada Target 12

By 2020, customary use by Aboriginal peoples of biological Goal Bresources is maintained, compatible with their conservation and sustainable use.


About the Target

For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples in Canada have depended on the land, water, ice, and the resources that healthy ecosystems provide to meet their physical, social, cultural and spiritual needs. Indigenous peoples continue to have an intimate cultural relationship with the landscape and the resources derived from the land and water. Customary use of biological resources, including such activities as hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering, is an important element of this relationship. This customary use of biological resources is be exercised by Indigenous communities under their law-making authority on their resources. It may also be exercised by those communities having Indigenous or Treaty rights to do so. Aboriginal [Indigenous] and Treaty rights are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Canada Constitution Act, 1982.

Twenty-five modern treaties are in place in Canada which, among other things, address the role of signatories to those treaties respecting land management, wildlife harvesting and management, establishment and management of national parks and conservation areas, and natural resource conservation and development. These modern treaties cover over 50 percent of Canada's landmass.

In Canada, through colonizing instruments such as the Indian Act, the Crown has assumed control over the traditional territory of Indigenous people, resulting in the removal of their powers to manage their lands. More recently, however, agreements between governments and Indigenous authorities have allowed Indigenous peoples to draw down jurisdiction through sectoral agreements and other forms of self-government and collective management.  For example, the creation of wildlife cooperative management bodies have allowed many Indigenous communities to regain management authorities relating to the use of settlement and reserve lands and management of the resources on those lands. Through negotiated cooperative agreements, Indigenous peoples have started to assume the management of biological resources.

Canada Target 12 is linked with the following global Aichi target under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

  • Aichi Target 18 -By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.

2018 Interim Progress Assessment

At the time of reporting there was limited available data to assess clear progress towards Canada Target 12. However, information from a range of sources confirms that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis are actively involved in multiple activities that promote customary practices compatible with conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Among these are various types of food harvesting, instruction on customary skills and Knowledge, and ecosystem management practices.

One of the indicators associated with this target is the number of households participating in traditional activities. Results from the most recent Aboriginal Peoples Survey, a key data source, were not yet released before completion of Canada’s 6th National Report to the CBD. However, the First Nations Food, Nutrition, and Environment Study conducted by the University of Ottawa, Université de Montréal and the Assembly of First Nations, shows that on average and across several provinces, 65% of on-reserve First Nations households participate in traditional harvesting activities.

While data was not available for Inuit or Metis populations, results from the First Nations Regional Health Survey, released by the First Nations Information Governance Centre in 2018, suggest that there has been a slight decline in the rate of participation in traditional activities among on-reserve First Nations households. For instance, 18% of survey participants reported hunting or trapping in the three months prior to the survey, compared to 22% in 2010. Similar trends were reported for fishing, canoeing, and berry picking.

At the same time, the First Nations Regional Health Survey results suggest that on-reserve First Nations households are increasingly consuming traditional foods such as large land-based animals, freshwater fish, game birds, berries and bannock. In its most recent survey, 96% of adults reported having recently consumed traditional foods, compared to 85% in 2010. The survey found similar consumption patterns among on-reserve youth and children.

New data should become available in the near future for Inuit populations. Both the Nunavik and Inuit Health Surveys will provide information on traditional food consumption in Inuit regions.

Case studies are highly valuable sources of information for reporting on Canada Target 12. A number of important initiatives aimed at maintaining and increasing customary use have been identified and documented through case studies. For example, the Nuluaq Project addresses the Inuit food insecurity crisis by promoting community-based initiatives which support the consumption of food derived from the land. Please see the supplementary report on Canada Target 12, appended to Canada’s 6th National Report for the full suite of case studies.

Other initiatives focus on passing down teachings from one generation to the next in order to maintain or revive ancient cultural practices. In Nova Scotia, First Nations apprentices can learn how to build a traditional birch bark Mik’maq canoe over a six-week long course at Milbrook’s Cultural Centre. In Manitoba, the Manitoba Métis Federation hosts flower beadwork circles and bison hide tanning workshops to encourage continued participation in these activities.
In addition, there are numerous examples of collaboration between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples in support of land and resource management, including recovery of species at risk. Through Indigenous-led Guardians programs, for example, and other initiatives such as the restoration of clam gardens by the Coast Salish peoples, Indigenous peoples are continuing to play a critical role as stewards of the land and water.

There are many Indigenous Guardians programs across the country. These programs empower Indigenous communities to manage their lands, waters, and ice according to traditional, or customary, laws and values. Guardians are employed as the “eyes and ears on the ground” to monitor ecological health, maintain cultural sites and protect sensitive areas and species. For example, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has established the Ni hat’ni Dene “Dene Watching the Land” program to support stewardship in the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve. The Ni hat’ni Dene work in all seasons as stewards of the land. This includes monitoring ecological health, maintaining integrity of cultural sites, providing interpretive services, and transmitting knowledge to younger generations. In 2017, the federal government announced funding of $25 million over 5 years to support an Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program. The Pilot Program’s objective is to contribute to nature conservation, build partnerships with Indigenous peoples, and advance reconciliation. Separate funding streams for First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation are intended to provide the ‘seeds’ required to help develop a national network, bolster existing guardians programs, and prepare Indigenous Nations and communities to launch additional Indigenous Guardians programs.

In addition, Canada plays an active role internationally to promote the participation of Indigenous peoples in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Canada also regularly engages Indigenous peoples in CBD meetings by seeking their input in the preparation of Canadian positions on issues and by encouraging Indigenous participation in Canadian delegations to these meetings.


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