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Canadian resource co-management boards and their relationship to Indigenous knowledge: Two case studies

Spak, Stella Jadwiga





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 claims agreements between Canada and First Nations/Inuit, or crises (real or perceived) regarding a particular resource. Co-management boards 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' traditional environmental knowledge. Traditional environmental knowledge research has become a rapidly growing field of academic inquiry. The abilities of co-management bodies (who formulate or advise on natural resource policies) to rely on the represented Indigenous communities environmental knowledge has not received much attention. This research compares the capabilities of the crisis-based Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) and the land-claims-based, Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board (GRRB) to rely on the knowledges and concerns of represented Dene and Gwich'in communities in their operations. The structural, cultural, and legislative framework of the solely advisory BQCMB differs greatly from that of the policy making GRRB. This thesis analyzes how such differences affect the Boards' relationships to the environmental knowledge of the communities. Fieldwork conducted over the 1996–8 period in communities represented at the Boards and at BQCMB and GRRB meetings thus aimed to understand the communities' experiences with the Boards. The BQCMB's relatively weak status as solely advisory to governments, coupled with its community representative structure, hinder its ability to achieve meaningful community participation, and subsequently its ability to rely on Dene environmental knowledge. The GRRB, on the other hand, has the power to make policies and establish rules and regulations for the region it covers. This, coupled with its culturally appropriate community representation and meeting structure, permits inclusion of Gwich'in environmental knowledge. Ultimately, however, the ability to operate according to Dene and Gwich'in environmental knowledge and views of appropriate interaction with the land, is circumscribed by the wider Euro-Canadian bureaucratic structures within which both boards have to operate. Only knowledge that does not challenge the Euro-Canadian construction of reality is being used.

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