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Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas Planning

Apply to the First Post-Secondary Program Dedicated to Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas!

In partnership with the IISAAK OLAM Foundation, Vancouver Island University has led the design of Canada’s first post-secondary program specializing in planning for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). 

The advanced IPCA Planning Certificate will train the next generation of professional planners and build capacity to support the establishment, management, and governance of IPCAs in British Columbia and across Canada.

The certificate includes six interconnected courses, designed to augment learning outcomes and provide you with a holistic understanding of the various components of IPCA planning. Course delivery is designed to serve individuals who may be employed full-time and who are seeking ways to advance their learning in areas relating to reconciliation, conservation, and planning. If a specific course or course topic is of interest, please email to inquire about other available trainings outside of the certificate program.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas Learning

Program Outcomes and Benefits

The Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas Planning (IPCA) Planning Certificate will help educate a new generation of planners with the skills, knowledge and capacity to support the establishment and stewardship of IPCA's and other Indigenous-led conservation initiatives in the BC context. Students will gain a greater understanding of Indigenous approaches to land relationship planning and the holistic and integrated approach to stewardship that IPCA's represent. They will gain an increased ability to navigate the interface between Western and Indigenous knowledge systems, laws, and governance systems using frameworks such as Ethical Space and Two-Eyed Seeing.

Application Steps

  1. Sign-in or Create your EducationPlannerBC Account
  2. Update your EducationPlannerBC Account Profile 
  3. Select Institution (Vancouver Island University) or Return to the IPCA Application Page
  4. Complete Application - provide these answers:
    1. What category best describes you? Applying to an Undergraduate Program
    2. Select Your Subject Area: Bachelor of Arts
    3. Select Your Program: Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas Planning Advanced Certificate 
    4. Campus: Nanaimo 
  5. Submit and Review Application 
  6. Applicants will be contacted for a short entrance interview

Or if needed you can print off and apply through a hard-copy application: VIU Application for Admission

Admission Requirements

Completion of post-secondary diploma or completion of minimum of 54 academic credits including VIU’s Degree English Requirement.

Students who do not meet the minimum requirements may be accepted by the the program director on a case by case basis.

Students who meet or exceed the minimum admission requirements are not guaranteed to be admitted to the program.

Jeremy Williams_IPCA 1

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Registration is open for the 2024-2025 Cohort. The first course, an in-person 5-day field school in Tla-o-qui-aht Territory (Tofino, BC) begins on Monday September 23, 2024. The five remaining courses are all taught virtually between October 2025 and October 2026. See details on course dates and delivery methods below.

About the Program

The IPCA Planning Certificate will help educate a new generation of land planners with the skills, knowledge and capacity to support the establishment and stewardship of IPCAs and other Indigenous-led conservation initiatives.

Students will gain a greater understanding of Indigenous approaches to land relationship planning and the holistic and integrated approach to stewardship that IPCA's represent. They will gain an increased ability to navigate the interface between Western and Indigenous knowledge systems, laws, and governance systems using frameworks such as Ethical Space and Two-Eyed Seeing.

The Advanced IPCA Planning Certificate is a specialized certificate for individuals with interests in conservation, planning, and reconciliation.

The 6 courses will be delivered over 12 months. All courses are completed in 40 hours.

Course 1: IPCA 407 - IPCA Field Study

In person: September 23-27, 2024 with travel from Nanaimo to Tofino and return included. (Off-island students asked to arrive in Nanaimo the night of September 22 and to arrange their own accommodations.)

Course 2: IPCA 417 - Intro to IPCA

Taught virtually on the following Fridays in 2024 (from 9am to 5pm Pacific): October 25, November 1, November 8, November 15 and November 22, 2024.

Course 3: IPCA 447 - History, Law, and Politics

Taught virtually on the following Fridays in 2025 (from 9am to 5pm Pacific): January 17, January 24, January 31, February 7 and February 14, 2025.

Course 4: IPCA 457 - Ecological, Cultural, and Socio-economic Opportunities

Taught virtually on the following Fridays in 2025 (from 9am to 5pm Pacific): April 4, April 11, April 25, May 2, and May 9, 2025.

Course 3: IPCA 427 - Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Land Relationship Planning

Taught virtually on the following Fridays in 2025 (from 9am to 5pm Pacific): May 30, June 6, June 13, June 20, and June 27, 2025.

Course 6: IPCA 437 - Planning for IPCA

Taught virtually on the following Fridays in 2025 (from 9am to 5pm Pacific): September 12, September 19, September 26, October 3, and October 10, 2025.

Applications will be accepted until July 15, 2024 or until all seats are filled (whichever is first). Applications are reviewed monthly by the program admissions committee. Interested applicants should register as early as possible. There are approximately 25 seats available and eligible applicants are admitted on a “first come, first served” basis.

Program development is supported through funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership, the Canadian Mountain Network, and Mitacs, as well as in-kind support from the IISAAK OLAM Foundation.

Program delivery is through the Vancouver Island University and the IISAAK OLAM Foundation.

Learn more about the ISAAK OLAM Foundation.

Course Descriptions

This course consists of an experiential and immersive field study in an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). Students will engage meaningfully with the people, place, and culture, reflecting critically on their social positions, worldviews, and approaches to planning. Prerequisites: Min “C” in English 12

Monica Shore, instructor for IPCA 407 - IPCA Field Study

This course introduces students to the definitions, principles, and practice of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in Canada. Students will learn international and domestic policies relevant to IPCAs and the role of Treaty relationships between Indigenous Nations, their lands, and newcomer societies. Diverse examples of IPCAs are presented. Prerequisite: Min. “C” in English 12

Dr. Soudeh Jamshidian, instructor for IPCA 417 - Intro to IPCAs

This course introduces students to the principles of planning with an Indigenous knowledge systems lens, as informed by Indigenous and Natural Laws. Ethical Space is presented as a knowledge systems interface to promote equitable and respectful engagement between Indigenous and Western approaches to planning for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. Prerequisite: Min “C” in IPCA 417

Dr. Allyson Menzies, instructor for IPCA 427 - Indigenous Knowledge Systems

This course explores practical considerations for planning, establishing, and managing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). Students will learn about processes and pathways for establishing IPCAs, jurisdictional considerations, capacity and financial needs of IPCAs, connections to Indigenous cultures, and the roles of planners in supporting IPCA planning, establishment and management.

Eduardo Sousa, instructor for IPCA 437 - Creating IPCAs

This course provides a historical overview of Indigenous and newcomer relations in British Columbia, focusing on the legal and jurisdictional implications of this history for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). Aboriginal Title, Treaties, case law, and modern agreements are explained, and diverse governance options for IPCAs in BC are explored.

Dr. Justine Townsend, instructor for IPCA 447 - History, Law, and Politics in BC

This course explores the roles of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) in promoting ecological, cultural, and socioeconomic well-being. The course explores roles and opportunities for IPCAs in habitat protection, ecological restoration, cultural revitalization, reconciliation, food sovereignty, and economic resilience, with specific reference to the BC context.

Eric Wilson, instructor for IPCA 457 - Ecological, Cultural, and Socio-Economic Opportunities


If you have any questions about the program, please contact Justine Townsend.

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Guiding Principles of the IPCA Planning Certificate

Program principles are values and mindsets that function as guideposts for students and instructors throughout the duration of the IPCA Planning Certificate.  Instructors will facilitate student learning, support individual and collaborative work, and foster a positive learning environment. These principles are also foundational to IPCA's.

Learn more below.

Venn diagram showing the connectivity of Ethical Space with Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Western Knowledge Systems

Ethical Space is the overarching principle and framework of the IPCA Planning Certificate. This framework is further animated through four additional program principles, described below:

Ethical Space is established through acceptance and a collective understanding that Indigenous and Western knowledge systems are equal. It is a space in which one knowledge system does not dominate another, where both can hold their ground, and where new understandings, relationships, and knowledge can be developed and/or transformed. It is a space of decolonization, healing, reconciliation, and commitment to equitable cross-cultural learning.

Ethical Space and the principles below will cultivate our capacity to communicate across differences.

In the Nuu-chah-nulth language, shared by fourteen nations on the west and mid coast of Vancouver Island, IISAAK (EE-sahk) is often translated simply as ‘respect,’ but also carries a much deeper meaning: “To observe, appreciate, and act accordingly.” IISAAK is the highest law of the Nuu-chah-nulth legal system, depicted visually through the Sun-Moon crest.

IISAAK is a program principle dedicated to highlighting the commitment that students and instructors will make to respecting each other, the perspectives and knowledge systems, the communities, and the environments where they study and work. IISAAK happens when we take time to slow down, observe our own biases, and appreciate the offerings made by our peers.

Responsibility is a program principle guiding our commitment to take leadership in our own learning journey and carry our weight within group projects and teamwork. This principle also invites us to show up and be present in the program and more broadly, communicate our appreciation and challenges, and care for the people, species, lands, and waters where we learn.

Reciprocity is a principle that speaks to our commitment to share our perspectives and knowledge, participate with courage and humility, and give as much as we receive. We are asked to equally share and listen, honour and give thanks to all knowledge holders (including peers), and act for the mutual benefit of all.

The principle of diversity marks a commitment to a distinctions-based approach to the program, recognizing that Indigenous Peoples across Canada are sovereign and independent, and that First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and governments have distinct contexts, histories, and challenges. Diversity also embraces the multiplicity of gender and race, and the diversity of people and perspectives required to make IPCAs successful.

Terms and Definitions

“…lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems” (Indigenous Circle of Experts, We Rise Together report, 2018). 

The Government of Canada has recognized that IPCA's are an innovative land-use planning tool for achieving the goal of protecting 25% of lands and waters by 2025 and 30% by 2030. BC’s current protected area land base is 15%.

Learn more by... 

Reading the foundation resource on IPCAs - the Indigenous Circle of Experts' 2018 report, We Rise Together.

Checking out the IPCA Knowledge Basket

Ethical Space is a framework for guiding respectful interaction across cultural differences in a way that upholds the fundamental integrity of all knowledge systems entering that space. It is a model that creates a space of mutual trust, respect, equality, and collaboration.

Ethical Space allows for a space of discussion and planning with various knowledge systems when no one knowledge system is seen as superior.

Two-Eyed Seeing is an approach of inquiry and solutions in which people come together to view the world through an Indigenous lens with one eye (perspective), while the other eye sees through a Western lens.

Frequently Asked Questions

The IPCA Advanced Planning Certificate is intended for Indigenous governments, and those who are seeking to support Indigenous governments, to plan and establish IPCAs.

While the certificate is open to students across Canada, it is conducted in the Pacific time zone (e.g. 9am-4pm PT). Expectations for student attendance are the same regardless of where students are joining from. If you would find it challenging to participate in all of the sessions because of your time zone or other obligations, we encourage you to pursue other learning opportunities, or join the certificate at a time when you’re able to fully participate.

Instructors recognize that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit governments are establishing IPCAs in their territories, often under different names. As such, instructors strive to include relevant and diverse examples based on the interests and experience of each cohort.

We recognize and uplift Indigenous governments as those who have inherent and recognized rights and jurisdiction to establish IPCAs in their territories as they see fit. We center Indigenous self-determination as a core value of the program (see also Question 13).

By the end of this program, students will be able to support Indigenous leadership to plan and implement Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) by:

  1. Practicing and fostering Ethical Space through self-reflection, cultural humility, and a meaningful understanding of one’s roles and responsibilities;
  2. Analyzing complex contexts and systems in which IPCAs are established and continue to evolve; and
  3. Applying diverse Indigenous and Western planning principles and approaches.

While some global context is provided, the focus of the certificate is on Indigenous-led conservation and IPCAs throughout Canada. However, the certificate is being delivered by Vancouver Island University in British Columbia (B.C.), and most of the instructors are based in B.C. As such, there may be a greater focus on the B.C. context. Students are encouraged to discuss examples and topics, including IPCAs, throughout Canada.

The field course, which is the first course in the program, takes place in B.C. (see more about the field course in Question 5).

Attendance is mandatory for all courses, and a significant part of the student’s grade is connected to participation.

Students are expected to attend an in-person field course at the end of September in B.C. as well as all the classes for each of the five online courses. Please check out the dates for each course.

Students are expected to attend all classes to gain a strong understanding of the complex and diverse approaches to IPCA planning. Each day of class that is missed represents 20% of the entire course. We wish to ensure that those graduating from the program walk away with a deep and nuanced understanding of the subject matter.

We understand that things come up and may under exceptional circumstances make accommodations. We encourage students to have conversations with their employers to ensure they can focus on the courses and set aside sufficient time to keep up with readings and assignments.

Field Course (Course 1)

The field course in September is an immersive learning experience over 5 days (not including travel to and from the meetup location). The field course includes field trips and guest talks by Indigenous leaders, Elders, and knowledge holders. The field course typically takes place at the Clayoquot Campus in Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks (Tla-o-qui-aht territory/Tofino, B.C.) on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Students are expected to participate fully in each day’s activities from approximately 9am to 5pm followed by group dinners and occasional evening events. To get the most out of this special experience, and to be respectful of our hosts and knowledge holders, it’s critical that students be fully available and present.

Virtual Courses (Courses 2-6)

For the 5 subsequent virtual courses, students are expected to be available from 9am-5pm PST for five consecutive Fridays for each course. Each virtual course consists of five classes over five weeks (or longer if a class falls on a statutory holiday).

For the virtual courses, expect 40 hours of “live” virtual class time plus an additional 2 to 4 hours a week for readings and assignments (some of which can be completed during class) for the duration of the course and possibly one week after each course ends. Out of respect for the instructors, guest speakers, and your fellow students, it is expected that students make every effort to fully attend and participate in each class.

Instructors are aware of the busy nature of students and include time for readings and assignments in each online class.

Each year of the certificate we accept a new cohort of students. As a cohort, students take each course together in the order they are offered. Courses are not offered on an individual basis. See the course schedule for the dates each course is offered.

Each course has a different focus and theme. The courses build off of each other so that by the end of the certificate, students have a strong understanding of IPCAs. For example, we cover the evolving conservation context in Canada and globally, treaties and foundational agreements among Indigenous and settler society and institutions, Indigenous and Crown law, systems thinking and holistic approaches to planning, Indigenous worldviews connected to relational forms of planning, and much more.

There will be a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 24 students in the 2024-2025 cohort.

Virtual classes typically consist of a mix of instructor-led activities and talks, guest speakers, class discussions and activities, and student presentations. Some time is reserved in each class for students to complete the weekly readings or work on assignments or group projects.

Class discussions are one of the richest parts of the certificate given the breadth of students and their experience.

Given the short duration of each course, classes are less of a ‘deep dive’ into each course topic and more of introduction to the IPCA space. There are plenty of opportunities to learn what students are working on in diverse territories across the country.

For the 2024-2025 cohort, each course will cost $1,248.48 CAD ($416.16 per credit–3 credits per course). The first course (IPCA 407) is an in-person field course in Tla-o-qui-aht territory and has an additional field course fee of $2,080.80 CAD.

In total, with other student fees including the healthcare plan the cost of the entire certificate in 2024-2025 is $10,424.62 CAD. (Each year, costs are subject to a standard 2% increase.)

This includes activities related to the field course, but does not include your travel costs to and from the meet up location in B.C. (in previous years, the cohort has met in Nanaimo and traveled together by bus to the west coast of Vancouver Island). Tuition must be paid by VIU deadlines - see your offer letter for all the details.

For a breakdown of the costs see the "Program Fees" section of the IPCA Program Website.

Each course is graded and a cumulative grade is given for the entire certificate. A minimum of a “C” grade is required to move from each course to the next course, and overall for the Certificate. However, rather than focusing on grades, instructors and teaching assistants offer tailored feedback on assignments to support and challenge students in constructive ways.

The instructors have a breadth of experience that includes IPCAs and Indigenous-led conservation, teaching and facilitation, human-centered design, land use planning, and working with Indigenous Peoples.

Instructors thoughtfully curate the content of each course to foreground Indigenous perspectives, knowledge, and examples of IPCAs. Some instructors are Indigenous knowledge holders and experts on various aspects of IPCAs, others are non-Indigenous allies with specialized areas of expertise that contribute to student learning. It is recognized that the students are are also coming into the course with life experiences, education, and knowledge that will contribute to this cohort-based experience. 

Learn more about the instructors and the courses they teach.

The IPCA Planning Advanced Certificate was established to serve Indigenous governments who are planning and establishing IPCAs, and to address a gap in the education system to support these actions. The program was conceived by Eli Enns, former Co-Chair of the Indigenous Circle of Experts, and designed by the IISAAK OLAM Foundation. Inspiration for the program emerged from the process led by the Indigenous Circle of Experts for the Pathway to Canada Target 1 which led to the new designation “Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area.”

In 2022, Vancouver Island University (VIU) and the IISAAK OLAM Foundation (IOF), an Indigenous educational and capacity building organization, launched the IPCA Planning Advanced Certificate. We welcomed the first cohort of students in 2022 who graduated in 2023. VIU and IOF have been working together for several years on numerous projects to advance Indigenous-led conservation and IPCAs and have a strong partnership.

The IPCA Planning Advanced Certificate responds to one of the main challenges the Indigenous Circle of Experts identified with respect to IPCA establishing in Canada: a lack of capacity. Through the certificate, we aim to share knowledge, resources, and practices, and foster community. In doing so we aim to support Indigenous leaders and their teams plan, establish, and manage IPCAs, as well as conservation practitioners wishing to support IPCA development.

Program principles are the shared values, mindsets, and guideposts for students and instructors in the IPCA Planning Advanced Certificate. These principles are also foundational to IPCAs. The five program principles are: Ethical Space, respect/iisaak, responsibility, reciprocity, and diversity.

Since its inception, the IPCA Planning Advanced Certificate has received funding and support from Vancouver Island University, the IISAAK OLAM Foundation, the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Mosaic Forest Management, and the Canadian Mountain Network. The IISAAK OLAM Foundation and VIU are fundraising for the program with the goal of being able to cover the tuition of Indigenous students. We will share opportunities for tuition support on the website when available.

The deadline to apply for the 2024-2025 cohort is July 15, 2024.

We will be following all provincial health orders and safety protocols for Covid-19 at the time of the field school.

If you have further questions about the IPCA Planning Certificate feel free to reach out to Justine Townsend at

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