Consultation and Consent: Intercultural Perspectives in Resource Governance
Principal Investigator: Mitchell, Terry (2)
Licence Number: 16060
Organization: Wilfrid Laurier University
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016
Issued: Feb 23, 2017

Objective(s): To better understanding of both the challenges and best practices for inclusive governance of natural resources that respects aboriginal rights, knowledge, cultural heritage and self-determination.

Project Description: The proposed research is part of a larger collaborative research project on the internationally recognized right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent in relation to natural resource management and development that may affect lands and waters that they own, occupy or otherwise use. The research pursues better understanding of both the challenges and best practices for inclusive governance of natural resources that respects aboriginal rights, knowledge, cultural heritage and self-determination.

The aim of the case study is to contribute to discussion and shared knowledge about the evolution of water resource governance relationships between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories (NWT). In particular, the research will chart the emergence of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy and the role of the Aboriginal Steering Committee (ASC) in that Strategy’s implementation. One key focus will be the role of the ASC and other forms of intergovernmental engagement around the development of the NWT negotiating strategy for bilateral water agreements with the NWT’s neighbouring provinces and territories. A central objective will be to understand the relationship between broader practices of inter-governmental engagement and formal processes of consultation conducted in accordance with the Territorial government’s obligations under the Canadian constitution.

This is a preliminary phase in what will hopefully be a longer research program related to Aboriginal involvement in water governance in the NWT. One of the aims of this early research will be to identify potential next steps for future research. That said, the current application is only for approval of the preliminary phase described here.

The methods consist of a focus group discussion and semi-structured interviews. Participants will be provided with a brief backgrounder about our research ahead of the planned interviews, along with an informed consent document. The ASC focus group discussion will last 2-3 hours, and each interview will last approximately one hour.

Some of the principle questions the research team hope to answer include the following: To what degree do considerations of national and international indigenous rights shape different parties’ approach to water governance and management in NWT? Are different cultural understandings of land and water successfully bridged through the ASC participation in the Water Stewardship Strategy? How do ASC members understand their roles in the broader context of government consultation with aboriginal peoples in the formation of water policy? How has aboriginal involvement in water governance influenced the territorial government’s approach to transboundary water negotiations?

The research team hope that the research process in this preliminary phase of the NWT case study provides an opportunity for Aboriginal Steering Committee (ASC) members and government representatives to reflect upon the successes and remaining challenges in the evolving relationship to facilitate inclusive water policy in NWT through the Water Stewardship Strategy. Communities will only be involved to the extent that ASC members represent views from their communities. Nevertheless, as discussed further in the “objectives” section, the team hope that this is only the beginning of a longer research program. In a subsequent phase of the research there may be opportunities for more direct engagement with regional aboriginal governments and local communities.

The preliminary findings of this research will be made directly available in a report to the ASC, aboriginal governments and the Government of the Northwest Territories. Once research advances to subsequent phases, opportunities will be sought to more directly communicate research results through the relationships that are developed with representatives of aboriginal governments.

As with all of the research conducted throughout the broader project, the findings from this research will be compiled into a research database being developed by the First Nations partner institution, the Six Nations Polytechnic Indigenous Knowledge Centre (INC). The INC will insure that the results from the various case studies are made available in an online format, so that those findings may contribute to the broader debates around these issues within Canada and beyond. Collaboration with the INC will insure that knowledge is collected and curated in a manner that is respectful of the intercultural basis for the research program. Through the online platform provided by the INC, individuals and communities in the NWT will gain access not only to the results of the research in NWT, but also to results from the other case studies in the research project.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from February 22, 2017 to March 1, 2017.