The Position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian Co-Management Organizations

By Spak, Stella | Anthropologica, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian Co-Management Organizations


Spak, Stella, Anthropologica


Abstract: Northern Canada has seen the emergence of various forms of resource co-management agreements over the last decades. Co-management arrangements either result from land-claim agreements between First Nations/Inuit, or crises (real or perceived) regarding a particular resource. Co-management organizations consisting of Indigenous and government representatives often claim to base their natural resource management decision-making on both biological resource science and the represented Indigenous peoples' knowledge. This paper examines the actual ability of Canadian natural resource co-management boards to learn from the Indigenous Knowledge of represented First Nations communities. It will explore how the epistemologieal frameworks and employment structures within which co-management boards in Canada operate, shape the boards relationship to Indigenous knowledge. In particular the paper will examine the effect of power on the position of Indigenous Knowledge vis-a-vis biological resource science in the Canadian co-management arena.

Keywords: co-management, Indigenous Knowledge, traditional environmental knowledge, power

Résumé : Le Nord canadien a vu émerger diverses formes d'accords de cogestion de ressources au cours des dernières décennies. Ces accords résultent soit d'ententes de revendication territoriale entre les Premières nations/Inuits et l'État, soit de crises (réelles ou perçues comme telles) autour d'une ressource donnée. Les organisations de cogestion composées de représentants autochtones et gouvernementaux affirment souvent baser leurs décisions en matière de gestion des ressources naturelles à la fois sur la science des ressources biologiques et sur les connaissances des peuples autochtones représentés dans ces organisations. Cet article examine la capacité réelle des conseils de cogestion de ressources naturelles au Canada à tirer parti des connaissances autochtones des collectivités représentées. Il explore comment les cadres épistémologiqucs et les structures de l'emploi au sein desquels opèrent les conseils de cogestion du Canada façonnent le rapport qu'entretiennent ces conseils avec les connaissances autochtones. En particulier, l'article examine les effets de pouvoir sur la position des connaissances autochtones face à la science des ressources biologiques, dans le domaine de la cogestion au Canada.

Mots-clés : cogestion, Connaissances autochtones, connaissances traditionnelles sur l'environnement, pouvoir

Introduction

What are the realities of "co-management" in regard to First Nations involvement and Indigenous Knowledge? While there certainly is an extensive literature on Indigenous Knowledge and epistemologies and their importance for natural resource management,1 inadequate attention has been given both to the settings within which the integration of Indigenous Knowledge and biological resource science is supposed to take place, and to the actual results of such knowledge integration.

Using the "crisis-based" Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) as its main case study, this paper will explore the influence of power on the position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian co-management organizations. It will analyze how the epistemological frameworks within which co-management boards operate are shaped by structures of power, governance and employment and how these structures affect the ability of Indigenous communities to effectively intervene in the resource management process with their knowledge and concerns.

This paper is based on 18 months of fieldwork carried out between 1996 and 1998 in the Dene communities of Tadoule Lake (Northern Manitoba), Fond du Lac (Northern Saskatchewan) and Lutsel K'e (NWT), as well as on attendance at all BQCMB meetings over the same time period. All three Dene communities (respective populations are about 350, 700 and 250) are inaccessible by road for most of the year (save for approximately six weeks of winter ice roads used to ship in heavy supplies), and country foods such as caribou and fish make up a large part of the diet.

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