More than Money: What’s the Real Value of Working with the Land?

It’s relatively easy to put a figure on the value that mining brings to the NWT economy, or list the number of public sector jobs created by government initiatives.

But how do we quantify the returns from investment in land-based programs?

An Australian-based research group is in the NWT this month helping two First Nations get to the bottom of just that: determining the value of the social return on investment into land-based, stewardship-centered economies.

“If you have happy people who love their jobs, you have a happy and healthier community.”

Diana Ferner, a consultant with Social Ventures Australia, has been visiting Yellowknife, Lutsel K’e and communities throughout the Dehcho region for the past two weeks, conducting interviews on how land-based jobs, like those provided through monitoring or guardian programs, are affecting people and communities.

“We’re speaking with people currently involved in land management and monitoring work,” Ferner says, “as well as partners who’ve been involved or other people who can speak to the impact that has been generated.”

In Lutsel K’e, that primarily includes the folks involved with the Nihat’ni Dene ranger program in the Thaidene Nene protected area, while in the Dehcho, researchers are talking to monitors in the Aboriginal Aquatic Resources and Ocean Management (AAROM) program, Parks Canada and the burgeoning Dehcho K’e Hodi (‘Keepers of the Dehcho’) program.

Triple gains in Australia

Similar research has been done in Australia, where Aboriginal groups help run the country’s national protected areas as park rangers.

Looking at five Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), Ferner’s research team found that the parks and their associated ranger programs had generated “significant social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes” for Australia’s Indigenous peoples, resulting in a 3:1 economic return on federal government investment.

Those numbers factored in things like job creation and retention, improved health and wellness, decreased crime rates and savings resulting from sound land management.

“For the guardians, a lot of the value seemed to be generated from spending time ‘on country’ and building and restoring that connection to culture and the land,” Ferner says. “For government, a lot of the value was around the low-cost land management the rangers were providing.”

Ferner says this research is crucial to getting the full picture.

“In general, we find that a lot of programs tend to generate a lot of returns that aren’t necessarily valued by the market,” she says. “So for instance, connection to culture is something we know to be very important to stakeholders in Indigenous contexts…and there’s not really a market way of measuring that. So methodologies like this that look at the social value can help with capturing the full value of what’s being created.”

Happy workers, healthy communities

Kristen Tanche, a band councillor for the Liidlii Kue First Nation and student in the ongoing Indigenous Boreal Guardians training program in the NWT, is helping to conduct interviews in the Dehcho.

While her career spent mostly working behind a desk has been enriching, Tanche says she feels the need to get in closer touch with her culture, via language and being on the land.

“A person doesn’t feel completely whole unless they maintain some kind of connection to the land. Working just in an office, you are disconnected from that experience,” Tanche says.

“I’m a strong believer that being outside, immersed, and having that be part of your everyday job, you have a lot more self confidence, you’re doing something that you love and you’re being active. So there’s a lot of value in that,” she says.

Tanche can see the Dehcho K’e Hodi program, which is still getting off the ground, having significant benefits for communities in the region.

“I think it will be amazing for the economy; it would be a knowledge-based economy that would create so many jobs,” she says.

“If you have happy people who love their jobs, you have a happy and healthier community.”

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