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"Not the almighty": Evaluating Aboriginal influence in Northern land-claim boards

White, Graham






In a comprehensive analysis of the first decade of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, long-time observer and participant Lindsay Staples concludes unequivocally that, since the signing of the claim, Inuvialuit involvement in wildlife management has "improved dramatically" (Staples, 1995:3). In his words, "The participation of the Inuvialuit in the IFA management regime is both extensive and substantive, and has had a significant influence on government decision making" (Staples, 1995:49). Binder and [Hanbidge] (1993) are similarly sanguine about the IFA; in an early analysis, Doubleday (1989), while adopting a wait-and-see stance before rendering judgement, was optimistic about the prospects for Inuvialuit influence through the IFA and its boards. A decade later, [Treseder] and Honda-McNeil (1999) weighed the successes and failures of wildlife co-management boards and found that the former outweighed the latter. [Usher] (2003:379), who has decades of experience as both member of and advisor to land-claim boards plus a wide-ranging academic perspective, wrote: "The comanagement arrangements [of landclaim boards] work well in principle and in practice for both humans and the environment." Galbraith et al. (2007:36) rate the environmental assessment process of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board as "exemplary," in part because it goes significantly farther in meaningfully involving aboriginal people in environmental regulation than most such processes in Canada and elsewhere. At the same time, they also recognize shortcomings in this regard, for example, aboriginal people's mistrust of the process, a lack of capacity to participate effectively, and insufficient resources devoted to TK. Abstract Q found: The settling of comprehensive land claims across Canada's territorial North has brought about substantial changes in governance. Prominent among these has been the establishment of numerous regulatory and co-management boards dealing with land, wildlife, and environmental issues. These boards were explicitly designed to bring sign if aboriginal influence to bear in key land and wildlife decisions. To examine whether the boards have enhanced aboriginal participation and influence in these decision-making processes, factors such as the number and influence of aboriginal members, the extent of board powers, the independence (financial and otherwise) of the boards, and the boards' willingness and capacity to incorporate traditional knowledge into their operations are considered. Overall, the evidence support conclusion that the land-claim boards represent an important vehicle for substantially enhanced aboriginal involvement and influence over government decisions affecting the wildlife and environment of traditional aboriginal lands.

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