Q&A: Nature Canada’s newest director talks about defending our wild places
This month Gauri Sreenivasan joined Nature Canada as our campaigns director for protected areas. Bringing with her years of experience in policy and advocacy, she’ll be working on bringing people and organizations together to help secure a healthy future for all life on the planet.
Gauri lives in Ottawa with her partner and two daughters – but her love of nature started more than 3000 km away in the shadow of the Rockies.
Read on to find out more:
Q: You joined Nature Canada at the start of February and you’ll be focusing on protected areas. Can you tell me what you are most excited for?
A: I’m so appreciative of the opportunity and motivated by this moment we’re in.
First, the science is deadly clear. We are at a critical juncture to address the extinction of species and protect the planet’s life-saving systems on which we all depend. Canadians have both the opportunity and the obligation to act given the significant land and marine areas we have been entrusted to steward together and our relative wealth.
What is inspiring is how so many, from all walks of life, are seized by the urgency and rising to protect nature. We’re seeing youth movements rising up, alongside seniors who have long been guardians and protectors of their land and watersheds– and there’s still so many people we haven’t reached yet.
Q: Part of your job is working closely with the engagement team, trying to get people excited about taking action – are you hoping to reach some of those new people?
A: Absolutely. There is fear and uncertainty at the crises we face; but there is also a kind of hunger. People want to know what to do and how to do it. It feels like a moment for leadership from environmental organizations.
We have to connect to people’s passions and give them a hopeful vision of how they can help lock in protections for nature.
I’m impressed by the fact that Nature Canada’s history is rooted in a grassroots structure. It has always been about people organizing to protect what they know is both beautiful and important.
Q: “Beautiful and important” – I love that. It sums up what we’re working on.
A: I’m glad! I think so many Canadians feel that way from all kinds of communities.
There are also really important relationships that Nature Canada is building with other movements, whether it’s naturalists or reaching out to ranchers and farmers.
Of particular importance to me is the recognition by Nature Canada of the importance of upholding the rights and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, and taking action towards reconciliation.
So we have a scientific urgency, people awakening, and a need to change our laws, regulations and relationships—to nature and to each other. We don’t have time to slowly do these things just one at a time.
Q: One thing I wanted to ask, but it’s more personal of course, is where does your caring for nature come from?
A: Well I think of myself as a child of the Rockies. I’m born and raised in Calgary. And sometimes you don’t appreciate until you leave how much place has shaped your heart.
I grew up always able to see the Rockies from my window, but I love the transitions.
I love the approach to the mountains, driving through the foothills and ranchlands – there is something there that stirs me like nothing else – because the mountains call you towards them. Whereas, when you’re right in the mountains, they’re just on top of you. That is also a good feeling. It’s very humbling.
Q: So many of our members are drawn to nature for different reasons – sometimes seeing birds, sometimes photographing epic landscapes. What’s the draw for you and your family?
A: I think it provides a sense of humility as a human, all the things that have come before you and will last after you; but it is also about connection.
I remember as a kid when our family was going on trips – often just a family picnic to Kananaskis – and not quite having an understanding of why my mum was organizing these things. She, I think, always understood that when you got everybody outside, they come together in a way.
You don’t necessarily realize that when you’re just living the struggle of getting everybody out the door, you know?
Now, seeking nature as an adult myself, or planning expeditions as a parent, I understand. Outside you can find sanctuary and beauty for yourself – but you are also able to reconnect with each other.