Caribou horns of a dilemma: put time, money and energy into developing indigenous environmental monitoring efforts
stick to hiring outside technical consulting firms?
Indigenous Environmental Monitoring: Why Bother?
When big infrastructure and resource extraction projects intersect with traditional territories, many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities get deeply engaged in environmental assessment processes and project implementation agreements (sometimes called Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) or Long-term Relationship Agreements(LTRAs)). Negotiating comprehensive and meaningful environmental monitoring is usually a key part of these important agreements. If you are involved in such agreement discussions as a community, company or regulatory representative, at some point, you will make decisions about if, and how, to take on community-based environmental monitoring activities.
But is it worth putting all the negotiation time and effort into these arrangements between multiple parties, or is it easier to just keep on hiring outside technical consulting firms to do the monitoring work and provide the reports to management or co-management teams? Is it worth doing the hard upfront negotiation work to put in place environmental monitoring programs? Putting these together usually involves commitments of time and money for capacity building (e.g. "BEAHR" training for environmental monitors and managers), and organizational development, for indigenous participation in environmental management through environmental committees and ongoing community consultation. It can be tempting for companies to simply contract outside technical consulting firm. It can be tempting for indigenous communities to simply receive and review environmental monitoring reports that others create.
As we like to say, "SHIFT HAPPENS": our experience suggests that indigenous environmental monitoring simply makes projects better for all parties. Environmental monitoring and management programs provide communities with their own eyes, ears and boots on the ground to see for themselves if commitments and environmental enhancement projects are really working. When enviromental monitoring and management programs are well developed inside IBA or LTRA agreements, they can help detect and respond to the many environmental changes and shifts that happen within and around project life cycles that might otherwise go un- or under-detected. And indigenous peoples can be enabled to provide services on the ground that are far better tied to local needs than services provided by technical consultants, "from away", who provide monitoring services for hire.
Having indigenous monitors working for and reporting to indigenous communities can be supplemented with indigenous monitors as employees or contractors of the company who can communicate in an informed way (with whistle-blower protection) to the community about what happens day-in and day-out on the project site with respect to monitoring, protection, or event response. This benefits all parties. With more and more focus on the rights of indigenous peoples, "Free, Prior and Informed Consent" and indigenous and industry partnerships, indigenous enviornmental monitoring and management simply makes good sense - and it is here to stay.
The following list of benefits is based on recent Shared Value Solutions' experiences with First Nation environmental monitors on mining, oil and gas, power, and pipeline projects, and negotiation discussions on integrating Métis environmental monitors and Inuit environmental monitors within a variety of "follow-on" programs tied to environmental assessments, IBAs and LTRAs in Canada.