Academic journal article Anthropologica

The Position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian Co-Management Organizations

Academic journal article Anthropologica

The Position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian Co-Management Organizations

Article excerpt


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. In addition to participant observation, I conducted structured and unstructured interviews (at times with the help of a translator) with knowledgeable hunters and Elders regarding their experience with the BQCMB, on which all three communities are represented.2 I approached BQCMB meetings through participant observation (I generally tried to be a silent observer of the meetings but at times I was pulled out of my silent state) and through communication with government and community board members during coffee and evening breaks. I also attended Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board meetings in Inuvik and Tsiigethchic.

Western/First Nations Understandings of Indigenous Knowledge

Euro-Canadian and First Nations understandings of Indigenous Knowledge, tellingly referred to as Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) in the natural resource management context, are not necessarily congruent. The term "Traditional Environmental Knowledge" became popular in the 1980s when interest in Indigenous ways of knowing (until then only a topic of research in Anthropology, Cultural Ecology, Ethnoscience, etc.) and understanding the environment became more widespread and, in particular, was adopted by international development organizations (see Brokensha et al. 1980). Based on the idea that TEK had been undervalued and could make important contributions to natural resource conservation and management, various TEK working groups were founded in the 1980s (such as the International Conservation Union (IUCN) Traditional Ecological Working Group, etc.). The widespread international recognition of the existence of non-Western environmental knowledge soon led to an increased focus on the existence of such knowledge and its importance for natural resource management within Canada and particularly the Canadian North.

Many Western scientists see Indigenous Knowledge as the knowledge Indigenous peoples have of the plants and animals in their environment, including their overall interaction, and give definitions such as this: "TEK is the system of knowledge gained by experience, observation and analysis of natural events that is transmitted among members of a community" (Huntington 1998:66). Parts of this knowledge are further often paralleled with the scientific discipline of ecology. In spite of the problematic nature of the TEK concept some First Nations scholars are also using the term,3 but their definition of its meaning generally differs considerably from the common definition used in natural resource management contexts. …

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