07/13/2016 04:17 EDT | Updated 07/13/2016 04:59 EDT

Catherine McKenna Tells AFN Traditional Indigenous Knowledge Key In Climate Fight

McKenna addressed the Assembly of First Nations Wednesday.

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Traditional indigenous knowledge is vital when it comes to assessing climate impacts and resource projects, the federal environment minister insisted repeatedly Wednesday in a speech to the Assembly of First Nations.

Catherine McKenna's address to the AFN's annual meeting sounded some now-familiar Liberal government themes: healing the relationship with Canada's First Nations and consulting with indigenous peoples on a host of policy areas.

McKenna focused much of her speech on a just-completed family vacation that took her to Haida Gwaii, off the northern B.C. coast, and to Dene territory in the Northwest Territories.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks in Montreal, Que. on March 29, 2016. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

"Everyone I've met has shared with me why the lands are so important to them and their families," she said.

McKenna began her 22-minute speech by noting she was the first environment minister to address the Assembly of First Nations in at least a decade, and quite possibly ever.

She asked the chiefs to get involved in ongoing public consultations over the revamping of Canada's environmental assessment system, and promised that a pan-Canadian climate plan being developed this summer with the provinces and territories is heavy on aboriginal consultation.

Major resource projects are already being assessed, she said, using "the key principles that indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted and, where appropriate, impacts on rights and interests will be accommodated."

"We know that traditional knowledge provides us with invaluable information. It makes our research more efficient and provides us with first-hand observations about the state of our land, water, flora and fauna."

McKenna also said that traditional knowledge will be specifically included in wildlife conservation decisions.

"We know that traditional knowledge provides us with invaluable information. It makes our research more efficient and provides us with first-hand observations about the state of our land, water, flora and fauna," she said.

"That is why we consult and work with Indigenous communities in deciding whether to list a species under the Species At Risk Act and in establishing the best recovery strategies and recovery plans."

Similar rationale used by last Tory environment minister

Former Conservative environment minister Leona Aglukkaq raised the ire of some in the conservation movement when she used a similar rationale to defend Canada's polar bear hunt, saying her Inuk brother in Nunavut assured her there were plenty of bears on the land.

"Aboriginal people have a unique understanding of the environment, having lived off the land for thousands of years, so ensuring our voice is heard only improves our management of the species," Aglukkaq said in a government release last June as she headed to West Virginia for talks with American officials on polar bear conservation.

The Liberals came to office last fall promising a new era of evidence-based decision making.

"Responsible governments rely on sound data to make their decisions," said the Liberal campaign platform.


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