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The Position of Indigenous Knowledge in Canadian Co-Management Organizations

Spak, Stella






The GRRB's strong commitment to "Gwich'in knowledge of the land" is of course not simply due to the attitudes of its biologists. It results from the GRRB's position as a renewable resource board within the Gwich'in Settlement Area. When referring to wildlife harvesting and management in the Gwich'in Settlement Area, the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement states that its objectives are "to respect the harvesting and wildlife management customs and practices of the Gwich'in and provide for their ongoing needs for wildlife," as well as "to involve the Gwich'in in a direct and meaningful manner in the planning and management of wildlife and wildlife habitat" (GCLCA 12.1.1). At a renewable resource workshop in February of 1994, the year the GRRB was established, the Gwich'in further stated that their traditional knowledge about the land and wildlife should be recorded and used in resource management (Charlie and Clarkson 1998: 2). Thus the GRRB has clear directives and essentially no choice but to seek out and use "Gwich'in knowledge of the land" in its operations. Despite its active Gwich'in participation and numerous "Gwich'in knowledge projects," the GRRB does, however, exhibit a strong tendency toward reliance on "Euro-Canadian scientific/bureaucratic" resource management practices in its overall approach. Animals continue to be outfitted with satellite transmitters, and Gwich'in knowledge of fish, moose, caribou and so on, is in the end predominantly used to support and help the GRRB's biologists, who are trained in the state's approach to resource management, with their work. Ultimately, the GRRB and its staff biologists function within and under the wider Canadian renewable resource management structures. The GRRB's biologists therefore have to work with and be responsive to Gwich'in knowledge and concerns while at the same time reflecting the overall administrative policies of the territorial bureaucracy to whom the GRRB is in the end accountable. The GRRB thus takes Gwich'in knowledge of the land seriously and spends quite a large proportion of its funding on such projects. The use of Gwich'in knowledge of the land does not, nevertheless, generally lead to any challenges or re-examinations of the overall assumptions and theories of state resource management practices (such as the view of resources as something to be managed according to maximum sustainable yield principles and the heavy reliance on numerical data). Rather, Gwich'in knowledge of the land is used to support state resource management practices by providing information on, for instance, animal and habitat health and possible population densities. The GRRB's moose survey, habitat and harvest study of 1998 is a good example of this. The study set out to determine moose density, distribution and population changes using the communities' TEK and biology (Marshal 1998:7). While much of the study was carried out by Gwich'in hunters who relied on their extensive traditional environmental knowledge of the area, the overall rationale and framework within which the study took place remained grounded in classic state resource management practices.

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