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Environment Magazine September/October 2008

 

January/February 2008

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Meaningful Resource Consultations with First Peoples: Notes from British Columbia

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that whenever actions of a government may infringe on aboriginal rights or claims, the government has an obligation to consult with the aboriginal people. For government regulators and resource managers, along with the forest, fishing, and mining industries, rulings such as this have led to a renewed interest in land-use consultations with the indigenous First Peoples of North America.

One focus of these consultations is the creation of co-management plans for marine and terrestrial resources. Many of these plans cite the need to consider mutual interests, and there is widespread agreement that the resolution of difficult environmental management conflicts will require insights and methods drawn from both local or traditional cultures and the natural and social sciences. At a practical level, this means that consultations with First Nations should draw from culturally appropriate analytical and deliberative “best practices” to deal with complex issues of science, the integration and communication of local knowledge, the understanding of risks, and tradeoffs across multiple objectives. Yet despite recent progress on relevant methods, discussions to date about what constitutes meaningful consultations with First Nations have focused largely on organizational issues (such as when to meet and how often), protocols (such as communication and information sharing), and legal considerations (in particular, dispute resolution mechanisms). These are important, but they count for little if the substantive issues—concerning the values of the indigenous population and the utilization and protection of the resource base—are ignored or only later pursued through closed-door, power-based “horse-trading” negotiations.

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