North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchange 2015 – Montreal, Quebec

NACELE 2015 was held 18–22 June 2015 at the Montréal Botanical Garden.  Drawing from its location, the workshop carried the theme “Nourishing Relations: People, Plants and Place”. The four-day workshop, focused on Indigenous practices of connection with biocultural diversity in both rural and urban lands and waters, was designed to broaden and deepen participants’ knowledge, networking and communication skills through peer-to-peer exchange of cases and strategies, site visits to innovative tribal and collaborative initiatives and skill-building opportunities.

A dynamic and knowledgeable team of Indigenous scholars, activists and allies organised the event, led by the Global Diversity Foundation and The Cultural Conservancy, with Alain Cuerrier of the Montréal Botanical Garden and Université de Montréal. The event itself was Indigenous-led.

Indigenous environmental practitioners, scholars and activists from North American Native Nations shared insights and challenges from their work on wellbeing, connecting health, sovereignty and biocultural diversity.

NACELE 2015 convened 35 Indigenous environmental practitioners, scholars and activists from North American Native Nations who shared insights and challenges from their work on wellbeing, connecting health, sovereignty, and biocultural diversity. Returning participants from NACELE 2013 reported on ongoing work, building on past collaborations and sharing strategies for resilience and restoration in place-based health, food, and cultural systems. The group discussed ways to nourish the connections between restoring bodies, lands and culture, exploring strategies for successful and respectful collaborations that extend beyond individual Indigenous practitioners and communities to encompass other actors working in these arenas.

At the Workshop

Dr. Henry Lickers  from Turtle Clan Seneca opened the workshop, with a keynote address on Leadership and Biodiversity Conservation. Founding member of an environmental department that preceded the U.S. EPA and Canadian Department of Environment, he spoke to the ongoing challenges of advocacy, protection, and remediation, as well as the urgency of regenerating our ability to know, nurture and marvel at by the everyday nature that surrounds us – and be healed by it.

Reflecting on the theme of the workshop, and the still-limited incorporation of Indigenous environmental knowledge in broader environmental work, Dr. Henry Lickers concluded, “The day we all declare ourselves part of biodiversity, that will be the day that we will have succeeded.”

Stemming from respect for the enormous experience and commitment present, a spirited desire for collaborative action filled the workshop. One idea that sparked plans for joint work was that of tribal parks. Eli Enns (Tla-o-qui-aht) shared the success of this context- and culturally-driven conservation model from the Pacific Northwest as a negotiating tool and path to increase autonomy and recognition of sovereignty in management of Indigenous traditional territories. He considers tribal parks as a type of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), and works with the ICCA Consortium and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to advance recognition and establishment of such community-controlled conservation efforts worldwide.

NACELE 2015 was designed to support Indigenous environmental practitioners to exchange knowledge about issues unique to Indigenous nations, and strengthen professional networks between First Nations communities. The workshop consisted of sovereignty plenaries, group and panel discussions, ethnobotany breaks and field visits, with topics ranging from food sovereignty and resource exploitation, to co-management and joint stewardship.