Innu Guardian Program

(text and pictures by Dr. Trudy Sable, Director, OANR)

Training Modules:


In Autumn 2001, the Gorsebrook Research Institute, in collaboration with Environment Canada, Ecosystems Division, Atlantic Canada, began to work with the Innu Nation in InnuNationImage1the development of a proposed Innu Environmental Guardians Training Program. The objective of this program is to establish a comprehensive environmental training program for a group of Innu referred to as Environmental Guardians. These Environmental Guardians, together with select other participants with related responsibilities or interests (such as Band Council land management staff), will be the core participants in the program.

This training program would involve classroom-based course work interspersed with on-site training and hands-on participation in active Innu Nation co-management activities, environmental monitoring projects, and environmental research partnerships currently underway in Labrador, including the Voisey's Bay Project. The classroom-based components of the program would be based in Sheshatshiu to take advantage of existing office/classroom facilities and proximity to college and government offices. As presently envisioned, the program would be delivered over a five-year period, with initial modules delivered beginning in April, 2003.

Project History and Context

Innu began working as Guardians in 1992 when the Fisheries Guardians program was established with core funding from DFO. Beginning in 2000, by pooling resources from a number of partnerships (notably with Environment Canada) and undertaking new initiatives, Innu Nation secured sufficient resources to employ a number of InnuNationImage2Environmental Guardians in the areas of fisheries, forestry, wildlife, mining, and environmental research. There are presently 14 Innu Environmental Guardians employed by the Innu Nation, including: 4 full-time Forest Guardians, 2 full-time Voisey's Bay Monitors, 5 seasonal Fisheries Guardians, and 3 Environmental Guardians dedicated to environmental research and community education projects. Three of these Guardians are based in Utshimassit/Natuashish, the remainder in Sheshatshiu. Presently, Innu Environmental Guardians are involved in the co-management of forestry resources in ensuring environmental compliance at Voisey's Bay, and in fisheries monitoring and enforcement. As well, the Guardians participate in primary environmental research and in the monitoring and assessment of environmental impacts through research partnerships with government and university-based researchers.

The Innu Nation has established a dedicated Environment Office in Sheshatshiu which provides the necessary infrastructure and support staff (including highly-trained technical advisors in the areas of environmental engineering, geographical information systems (GIS) and forestry) to support the Guardians in their work. The Environment Office is supervised by the Innu Nation's Director of Environmental Protection, and supported by an office administrator. The Environmental Office works in support of broader Innu Nation programs, including land rights negotiations, Voisey's Bay IBA implementation, environmental co-management (including the environmental management and monitoring of the Voisey's Bay Project in partnership with Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Labrador Inuit Association) and National Park establishment.

With the ratification of the Voisey's Bay Impact-Benefits Agreement, the Innu Nation has recently assumed a much larger role in environmental management. The IBA provides for Innu Nation participation in cooperative environmental monitoring, management and planning of the project. A companion agreement between Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Innu Nation and the Labrador Inuit Association gives the Innu Nation a direct role in the regulatory oversight and compliance monitoring.

While the staff and the infrastructure components of the Guardians Program are in place, and increasing responsibilities for monitoring and research are being assumed by the Innu Nation, there have been few resources dedicated to providing the Guardians with theoretical and experiential training in environmental management and research. The current effort is dedicated to bringing together representatives from the Innu community, educational institutions, provincial and federal government agencies, and locally-based stewardship organizations to support the development of a sustainable training program to address these needs.

The training and professional development of the Innu Nation Environmental Guardians in various aspects of environmental management and research (EMR) will enhance the future capacity of the Innu Nation to:

  • manage Innu lands and resources
  • design and implement environmental management and research (EMR) projects to take full advantage of the Voisey's Bay IBA and similar agreements;
  • conduct effective environmental compliance monitoring under the Voisey's Bay IBA and similar agreements;
  • network with governmental/non-governmental organizations in EMR and co-management partnerships;
  • ensure appropriate use and protection of Innu knowledge and cultural heritage in EMR;
  • provide technical and logistic support to collaborative EMR projects;
  • ensure consistent environmental reporting back to the Innu people;
  • develop environmental education materials for use in the Innu communities.

Program Description

The Environmental Guardians Program is being designed to provide broad exposure and training within a wide range of environmental disciplines, so that Innu Nation's Environmental Guardians can carry out IBA and related co-management responsibilities with the necessary skill and competence. The Environmental Guardians concept recognizes the importance of both the longstanding and substantial body of knowledge of the land held by the Innu, and the need for the Guardians to develop competency within western scientific and technical disciplines concerned with environmental protection, management, and resource use. Merging these two ways of knowing will require Innu Environmental Guardians to acquire a unique set of skills and competencies that can reflect both Innu knowledge traditions, and the disciplines and skills that are recognized by formal educational institutions. Some of these areas of knowledge and skills will include the application of scientific concepts and methods to the study of natural habitats and aquatic and forestry ecosystems; computer skills; mapping techniques and GIS systems; ethnographic field research methods; data collecting, analysis and interpretation; reporting strategies and communication skills; and environmental laws and enforcement procedures. Other areas will include Innu toponomy, the specialized technical vocabularies of the elders, and other Innu forms of environmental knowledge.

This initiative builds on pilot training modules that have been running successfully within the Innu Nation Environmental Office over the past several years. It is expected that some of these training approaches could be expanded to other program areas within the Innu Nation and to other Innu organizations the future. Innu Guardians will take part in all phases of research and have contributed to defining training priorities.

Goals and Benefits

Specific goals of the training program are to enable the Environmental Guardians to:

  • monitor, plan, survey, advise, and conduct environmental research, projects and impact assessments, and enforce laws and regulations relating to the environment and its resources within the Innu land claim district
  • communicate their own traditions, environmental philosophy, concerns, and research to a wide range of scientists, government agents, economic developers, and the general public using scientific language and methods and forms of documentation and media that is understandable, acceptable, and valid to their audience from a western scientific perspective
  • conduct community consultations and communicate important environmental and scientific information to their own communities in a way that is understandable and accessible to people of their own culture
  • work effectively in partnership with other agencies and organizations while protecting and promoting their own environmental values and the knowledge and traditions that have sustained the Innu culture over time.

It is expected that the role of an Innu Guardian will evolve over time as he/she gains experience and confidence, and as skills evolve through on-going training and learning “on the job”. At this stage, it is also reasonable to expect the Guardians program to expand with increased opportunities for Innu employment in environmental management and monitoring of future development activities, as well as expanding research initiatives relevant to both Sheshatshiu and Utshimassits. There are expected to be numerous opportunities for new projects involving external partners and co-researchers.

Another important avenue that the Guardians Program may pursue is the development of an Innu environmental youth core to coordinate involvement of Innu youth in their work. In 2001-2002, a Green Team partnership with the Conservation Corps of Newfoundland and Labrador operated out of the Innu Nation Environmental Office, and work placement students have been involved in Guardian activities for several years.

Academic Accreditation

InnuNationImage3In order to help ensure the long-term integrity of the program and promote the success of individual Guardians, some form of accreditation is being explored. Currently, Saint Mary's University has stated its commitment to this process, and a committee has formed to continue investigating what this would require. Two departments in particular have been approached— Atlantic Canada Studies and Environmental Sciences. Ultimately, we hope the Guardians to opt for programs in either the humanities and social sciences (e.g., anthropology, sociology and history) or the hard sciences (e.g., biology, ecology, geography). As well, faculty members from Memorial University and the Labrador Institute, and the College of the North Atlantic have expressed their interest in cooperating with Saint Mary's and the Innu Nation on this initiative. By mid-summer, we hope to have formed an advisory board consisting of representatives from the Innu Nation and Band Council including elders, faculty members from cooperating universities, and potentially, representatives from partner organizations including VBNC.