You Cannot Own Another Life Form – Integrating Indigenous Understandings of Stewardship and Sharing into Land and Resource Use Decisions
University of New Brunswick Peace and Friendship Treaty Days, 2019-20
Wu Conference Centre, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton
March 12-13, 2020
Call for Papers
Questions of the appropriate role of Indigenous peoples in land and resource management decision-making have recently come to prominence once again. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has brought attention to the principle that Indigenous peoples should have the right of “free, prior, and informed consent” to decisions on the use of lands and resources in their traditional territories. In Canada, the new federal Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69) aims to better integrate Indigenous peoples and nations into the impact assessment process for projects with a possible environmental or socio-economic impact on Indigenous territories or Indigenous people. British Columbia has passed what is likely the most advanced environmental assessment legislation in Canada in regards to the role of Indigenous peoples in environmental assessments. In many cases, these developments are governments’ responses to many disputes brought before the courts over the rights of Indigenous peoples to control their traditional territories.
While these may seem like new developments in Crown-Indigenous relations, they actually have centuries-old roots in the Maritimes, in the form of the Peace and Friendship Treaties negotiated between the British Crown and the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy between 1725 and 1779. In those treaties, the Wabanaki nations agreed to share their lands with European settlers, but not transfer their lands to them. As a consequence, the treaties guaranteed that the Wabanaki could continue to use their lands and waters, and everything on, in, or above those lands and waters, as they always had.
These treaties, then, allowed the Wabanaki peoples to continue to steward the lands, waters, and other life forms that the Wabanaki peoples had interacted with for millenia. In the Wabanaki worldview, everything had life, even the stones, and was an independent life form. The Elders remind us that all of creation is connected; all life forms are therefore connected and related us in some way; they are all my relations (Psiw Ntolnapemok). Humans could not own the other life forms they shared the land with, as one being cannot own another. Using other life forms to live was, of course, necessary but it had to be done through appropriate protocols that demonstrated humans’ respect for those other life forms and that protected them from being used to excess or wasted. In contrast, European notions of lands and resources are premised on the idea of “ownership”, so that one has the right to use anything they can claim ownership of as they see fit. In the face of this premise, regulating land and resource use and environmental protection in the public interest can become a conflict between the public interest and the rights of private owners.
While the European notion of ownership and the Indigenous approach of stewardship may seem to be conceptually irreconcilable, environmental and land and resource management processes today are increasingly adopting the view that decision-making in traditional Indigenous territories has to be a shared process that secures the consent of both settler-state governments and its citizens and the Indigenous nations of those territories. The adoption of the Wabanaki approach to land and resource management would seem to be more critically important than ever, given the stresses that the planet is under from climate change, rising levels of resource use, and pollution. The latest Canadian impact assessment laws, land use and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment provisions of Canadian land claims agreements, and international law sources such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples may open a new opportunity for society to return to the principle of sharing the stewardship of the land with Indigenous peoples, a principle that was at the core of the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
As part of the fifth annual, 2019-20 edition of the University of New Brunswick’s Peace and Friendship Treaty Days, the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre is holding a colloquium on what we can learn about land and resource management decision-making and environmental protection today from Indigenous peoples, particularly from the principles of the Peace and Friendship Treaties and Wabanaki understandings of stewardship of lands and the life forms people share the land with. If you would be interested in presenting a paper on any aspect of this topic, whether from an historical, political science, legal, environmental science, educational, or other perspective and whether your knowledge is Indigenous or European-derived, we encourage you to send us an abstract of your proposed paper (maximum 250 words) and a brief biography, to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions are due by September 30, 2019.
Thank you. We look forward to your participation.