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Call to Action 92: Reconciliation & the Environment

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

It is hard to believe, but today is the last day of March. That means that today, we are wrapping up our conversation about the complex relationship between Indigenous people, the environment, and the Canadian legal landscape.

Indigenous people have made their home on Turtle Island since time immemorial. Far before the Canadian Common Law developed systems for the harvesting of fish and game, Indigenous people had their own legal systems for managing land, water, and resources. As the “first inhabitants and peoples of the land,” Indigenous peoples have an “ancestral and inherent responsibility to protect it.” [1] These systems, in relation to the environment, often focused on environmental stewardship, which includes managing their lands with “traditional knowledge and cultural wisdom…through a lens that looks at future generations, nature, humans and economies as one.”[2] Yet, historically, when there are conversations in Canada regarding the environment, Indigenous people rarely have a seat at the table.

An important part of truth and reconciliation is giving a voice to Indigenous perspectives when it comes to the environment. Reconciliation and the environment are linked because of the legal principle of free informed prior consent. Call to Action #92 calls on Canada’s corporate sector to: “Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.”'[3]

This is more than just the duty to consult which requires the Provincial and Federal Governments to consider the views of affected Indigenous groups and modify a project to avoid unlawful infringement on those rights where necessary and feasible. Call to Action #92 is about creating meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities to create opportunities for Indigenous peoples to share their “traditional ecological knowledge relating to biodiversity that can strengthen scientific outcomes and help project proponents and regulators make better-informed decisions when managing natural resources.”[4] Meaningful engagement requires projects to consult with local communities early in project development and should involve a sincere effort to integrate all forms of Indigenous knowledge. By creating these genuine relationships, traditional ecological knowledge could, for example, increase the “understanding of how a wildlife species’ abundance or distribution has changed over time” in order to provide greater resources for the protection and restoration of Canadian biodiversity.[5]

Traditional sources of Indigenous environmental law and knowledge can be a powerful contributor to the development of Canada’s environmental laws and policies. Indigenous science can be utilized to determine how to mitigate, for example, the impact of proposed projects on critical fish spawning areas and determine more suitable project sites.

Christi Belcourt, The Great Mystery of Water, 2016.

Meaningful engagement requires the 4 R’s and 3 P’s which are Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and Responsibility, as well as Protection, Partnership, and Participation.[6] These principles should be built into information-sharing agreements that include the following guidelines:

Respect that knowledge holders have the right to refuse to share their knowledge.

o Indigenous Peoples have fought hard to protect their culture. Much of this information is sacred and can not be shared under any circumstances.[7]

Establishing policies in collaboration with communities regarding how and when traditional knowledge will be used

o Organizations committed to meaningful engagement must develop policies regarding how the information will be collected, stored and who will have access to it. This process requires engaging with local communities to adopt their policies to fit their community’s specific needs. [8]

Acknowledging the risks to the community

o Traditional knowledge is vulnerable to misappropriation and misuse. Communities need to know that their knowledge will be used in a respectful way. [9]

Using these guiding principles, Indigenous perspectives can not only have a seat at the table, but their seat will be enhanced by the building and maintenance of an ongoing meaningful relationship. Taking the time to develop such a partnership will help Canada achieve another step towards reconciliation.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] ‘’Indigenous Reconciliation and Climate Change’’, Deloitte (retrieved on 29 March 2023), online: <> [2] Ibid. [3] Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, (Report) (Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012). [4] Jeremy Corbin, “Indigenous Reconciliation Through Biodiversity Projects” (5 December 2022), online: WSP <>. [5] Ibid. [6]6 Guidelines for Projects involving Traditional Indigenous Knowledge” (6 July 2018), online: Indigenous Corporate Training <>. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid.

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