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A case study- Protected areas, indigenous people and local knowledge in James Bay QC (Question 3) [#371]
The Cree Community of Wemindji in northern Quebec is an aboriginal community whose culture and economy depend in significant measure on their connection to lands and waters. Portions of their traditional territory have been heavily modified by Hydro-Quebec’s James Bay (Phase I) hydro-electric development. The community has also had to adjust, in the last thirty years, to proliferating roads, an influx of recreational hunters and fishers from the south, and the imminent prospect of significant mining activity in their territory.

In response to large-scale industrial development plans from the urban south, the need for economic diversity and jobs for young people, and a commitment to safeguard hunting, fishing and trapping as a way of life, the community is considering alternative forms of development.  One option is the design of terrestrial and marine protected areas in lands integral to the Cree hunting way of life, and relatively rich in subarctic terrestrial and arctic marine species and habitats. A regime of protection that builds on existing Cree institutions for environmental stewardship, and on Cree practices of indigenous ecological knowledge is being developed.  Knowledge-sharing, knowledge creation, and cultural and environmental education are central to this vision for enhanced community control.
posted on 2009-03-03 13:09 UTC by Ms Katherine Scott, McGill University
RE: A case study- Protected areas, indigenous people and local knowledge in James Bay QC (Question 3) [#385]
I would like to point out that indigenous protected areas, as described above for the Cree, have been recognized as "indigenous and community conserved areas" by the IUCN Strategic Direction on Governance, Communities, Equity and Livelihoods in relation to Protected Areas (TILCEPA). It is anticipated that such protected areas will start to be included in the database of World Commission on Protected Areas, if the indigenous people or community directly involved approve of the listing.

Unfortunately, such international recognition of the importance of indigenous conserved areas does not mean that there is recognition at the national or lower levels of government.

Apparently, Australia has a system for assisting aboriginal groups in the traditional conservation of some sensitive/important parts of their territories. I understand that Australia will assist aboriginal communities to develop management/conservation plans, and fund on-going conservation activities by the community within the designated areas, while leaving the control and management in aboriginal hands.

Also, reportedly there is a unique national park in Columbia that protects important lands of an indigenous people. This national park is not co-managed, and it is not government managed. It is managed by the indigenous people using their customary laws and practices. This is an very innovative, trusting step by a national government.

If western countries (e.g., Canada) were willing to follow such models, the level of trust between indigenous peoples and national governments could take many steps forward.

Co-management is usually a government dominated system at a functional level. Co-management has led to mistrust in difficult situations. Examples include the debates over polar bear management in Nunavut. Indicator of the degree of mistrust could include several law suits undertaken by the Inuit against government for violating the 1993 land claim; most of which have been won by the Inuit.

Governments have permanent staff to manage, research, plot boundaries for sensitive zones, unintentionally develop complicated management schemes that are difficult for local people to understand, etc.

The aboriginal members of most co-management committees do not have such staff. They also usually do not have funds to collect opinions and knowledge from the widely-separated communities that they are supposed to represent. At meetings, they learn of the proposals and ideas that the protected area staff may have been developing for months, and they are often asked to vote on these proposals at the same meeting. No consultation is possible in such situations.

Government agencies of hire indigenous individuals that may work for a "co-managed" protected area, and often use such employment as an indicator of indigenous involvement and input. But such employees have two roles. When in uniform, they usually abide by the policies, standards of behavior and corporate culture of the national park system. When they are in their communities, they may take and advocate a very different points of view as an indigenous person. I know of many such situation, and have come to understand that indigenous staff members should not be expected to represent their community when on the job. Their communities rarely expect that they could or should represent them, given the inherent conflict of interest for these unelected persons.

Thus, co-managed protected areas and other conservation agencies are rarely truly co-managed. The body and influence of indigenous knowledge, and customary laws and practices can not be utilized  just by virtue of a co-management mechanism.

The above conclusion is based solely on how co-management functions in most cases, based on my 20+ years of experience working within such a system.

Add to the functional issues, we need to add the fact that in Canada, most modern land claims leave the "ultimate authority" in the hands of federal/provincial/territorial minister(s). There is no requirement for true balanced consensus in co-management (as the law suites by Inuit indicate). Thereby, co-managed resources and lands are inherently government dominated.

Indigenous and community conserved areas are not co-managed systems, and many still exist de facto in boreal and tundra (i.e., away from forestry activities and mineral and oil/gas extraction and expl;oration) where indigenous peoples can continue their customary practices, in the absence of co-management or perhaps in spite of co-management.

So I pose the question... In reality, does "co-management" adhere to the intent and wording of Article 10c?

I believe that a study soliciting the opinions and experiences of indigenous persons at various levels could reveal that the findings of Kruse et al (1998. Co-Management of Natural Resources: A Comparison of Two Caribou Management Systems. Human Organization 57: 447 - 458) are not uncommon.

Mike Ferguson, NordEco, Marathon, ON, Canada
(edited on 2009-03-09 23:37 UTC by Dr. Michael Ferguson)
posted on 2009-03-09 23:06 UTC by Dr. Michael Ferguson, NordEco