A new Indigenous Policy Framework for Project Review and Regulatory Decisions will bring Indigenous knowledge on par with Western science in environmental and regulatory assessments.
But the move toward greater indigenous collaboration stops at giving veto power to indigenous communities.
Erin Gilmer, director of indigenous policy at Canada’s Impact Assessment Agency, did not answer questions about the veto power. Instead, he said the framework consistently applies indigenous knowledge provisions to assessments and that it is a “positive step toward fulfilling our commitment to reconciliation, upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and meeting the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including provisions on free, prior and informed consent”.
“We know [Indigenous knowledge] it leads to better analysis and understanding of project impacts, stronger mitigation and accommodation measures, and sound regulatory decisions, and of course contributes to sustainability.”
The framework will require indigenous knowledge to be considered under four laws: the Impact Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Waterways Act and the Canadian Energy Regulatory Act.
The basic principles will guide officials in the four departments under the laws, but also open the door for other departments that want to incorporate indigenous knowledge, Gilmer said.
Russ Diabo, an indigenous policy analyst, is not surprised by the lack of veto power.
During the signing of Bill C-15, the act that recognized UNDRIP, Justice Minister David Lametti told the Senate Standing Committee on Indigenous Peoples that free, prior and informed consent does not mean a veto, but rather a meaningful consultation process, Diabo said. .
The framework will provide communities with a consistent way to provide information and contribute to mitigation and adaptation planning for development projects, Gilmer said.
“The idea is to work together during the process to consider all the information that is provided to make the best decision,” he added.
Indigenous knowledge is now formalized and standardized in impact assessments of development projects, but the veto power of indigenous communities remains out of reach in the new indigenous knowledge policy framework.
The new framework formalizes what was already underway for many environmental assessments, Gilmer said. But he noted that it will give indigenous knowledge in project reviews a more consistent and transparent way.
The policy framework emerged when indigenous knowledge was required in consultations after mandates passed in Parliament through Bills C-68 (protection of fish and fish habitats) and C-69 (impact assessments) .
The government undertook an extensive engagement process with indigenous communities to develop the framework after the approval of C-68 and C-69, Gilmer said.
Some queries can be found in the what we hear report.
Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canadian National Observer