Co-Management: Managing Relationships, Not Resources

By Natcher, David C.; Davis, Susan et al. | Human Organization, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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Co-Management: Managing Relationships, Not Resources


Natcher, David C., Davis, Susan, Hickey, Clifford G., Human Organization


Conclusions drawn from the body of co-management research generally agree that cultural diversity can enhance the pool of human resources from which management decisions are drawn. Based on the belief that group heterogeneity will generate a diverse set of problem-based solutions, co-management is being heralded as an emergent intellectual tradition to guide the stewardship of natural resources. However, research has yet to show under what conditions and at what cultural consequence indigenous representatives are able to express themselves. Nor has it been shown how cultural biases, including perceptions of the 'other,' influence group behavior. Based on research involving the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation (Yukon Territory), this paper explores whether cultural differences either enhance or hinder the working-group effectiveness of resource co-management boards established under Canada's comprehensive land claims process. In doing so, we identify some of the 'hidden' conflicts that can occur when culturally diverse groups, with fundamentally different value systems and colonial histories, enter into a coordinated resource management process.

Key words: co-management, Yukon, cross-cultural relations

Introduction

Over the past several decades the management of natural resources has undergone considerable change. Once solely under the purview of state administrators, responsibility is now being shared increasingly with those who are most dependent on the continued availability of the resource(s). Referred to generally as co-management, these systems of joint authority have evolved from informal agreements made between local resource users and district managers into complex decision and policy-making bureaucracies now responsible for the management of lands, forests, fisheries, and wildlife resources in countries throughout the world. Viewed by some as a belated recognition of the knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples (Jull 2003), co-management is being heralded as an emergent intellectual tradition that can be used to guide the stewardship of the world's natural resources into the future (Jentoft, Minde, and Nilsen 2003).

Beyond its role in land and resource management, comanagement has also been endorsed as a potential means by which to resolve longstanding conflicts between indigenous peoples and state governments (e.g., Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1996). Inspired in part by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland 1987), co-management regimes are being introduced in countries throughout the world and are yielding considerable promise for indigenous communities who have long played a passive receiving role in rules and regulations (Jentoft 2003: 7). With a range of institutional authority, co-management regimes are not only changing the way in which lands and resources are being managed, but are also restructuring indigenous-state relations more broadly.

Despite the prominence that resource co-management now has, research pertaining to the formation and maintenance of these cross-cultural institutions has been approached in rather vague ways, more by description than by any practical approach to theory building (Carlsson and Berkes 2005). This theoretical oversight is surprising given the considerable multidisciplinary interest afforded to these arrangements over the past 30 years.1 While conclusions drawn from this body of research generally agree that cultural diversity can enhance the pool of available human resources from which management decisions are drawn-perspective, values, knowledge, and insights-research has yet to show under what conditions and at what cultural consequence indigenous representatives are able to express themselves. Nor has it been shown how cultural biases, including perceptions of the 'other,' influence group behavior.

Because co-management has more to do with managing human relationships than resources per se, understanding the underlying cultural conditions by which these arrangements perform is critical to forecasting their ultimate success or failure.

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