Aboriginal Governance in the US and Canadian North: Institutional Design and Conflict Management

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, North Slave Region

Tags: aboriginal community, governance, government

Principal Investigator: Davidson, Adrienne (1)
Licence Number: 15646
Organization: University of Toronto
Licensed Year(s): 2015
Issued: Mar 05, 2015

Objective(s): To investigate the development of Indigenous governing autonomy in the US and Canada, and the implications that this order of governance has for the political acceptability of major resource projects in the north.

Project Description: The successful development of energy and natural resource projects in the north is not simply a matter of a suitable economic climate and support from federal or territorial/state government. Rather, the arctic and sub-arctic regions of Canada and the United States are governed by a complex system of institutions at the local, territorial, and international level. This research, investigates the development of Indigenous governing autonomy in the US and Canada, and the implications that this (relatively new) order of governance has for the political acceptability of major resource projects in the north.

Since the early 1970s, the United States and Canada have collectively settled over 30 land claims, transferring land title to northern Indigenous peoples, and with it, policy authority over economic development and land management. Both states have also recognized self-government (to varying degrees): the US officially recognized tribal sovereignty in 1993, and Canada introduced a policy of self-government negotiation in 1995.

This research project attempts to make two clear contributions to the literature on federalism and Aboriginal sub-national autonomy. The first is on the question of outcomes. While there is a good understanding of the types of institutional arrangements that have emerged, and the factors that have shaped these outcomes, much less work has on understanding sub-national autonomy as an independent variable. These new regional institutions have implications for local and national politics, and institutions can be compared with respect to their impact on: local political participation and leadership development; voting behavior in local and national politics; the stability of new models of governance; inter- organizational cooperation; and public opinion on government effectiveness and/or levels of trust. These institutions, moreover, have an important role for the inclusion of Indigenous voices and perspectives on the development of natural resources and energy projects that occur on or near their traditional lands.

The second contribution of this research will come through an attempt to re- situate the politics of sub-national autonomy in northern Canada alongside questions of political dissent. It will investigate the ability of institutions of sub-national autonomy to internalize dissenting opinions and manage complex intra-group preferences following the implementation of land claims.

This research will trace the management of political dissent in two regions—the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Canada; and the Northwest Arctic Borough/Nana Regional Corporation Boundary in Alaska—following policy reversal by local leadership on major development projects. Both cases will follow the reversal by local leadership regarding the suitability key resource development projects that entered the land claims debate in the 1960s and 1970s. In Canada, this research will focus on policy reversal regarding the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline initiative, and the Dempster Highway extension to Tuktoyaktuk.

The primary research data that will be collected derive from a series of approximately 60 semi-structured interviews with government officials, regional community / governance leaders, and corporate leaders. These individuals will have been personally involved in policy decision-making on the key resource development projects of interest. The interviews will ask a series of questions regarding the processes of sub-national institutional change and maturation in northern Canada and the United States, and the implications of institutional change on policy reversal, and the mechanisms by which local interests are represented by these institutions and integrated into decisions.

These officials and community leaders will also be invited to offer their views on the research project itself, including the degree to which it engages with issues of interest in the region, as well as other issues they feel are paramount within their region. This line of questioning will better align the research process and questions with local policy interests and needs.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from March 8, 2015 to April 10, 2015.