Indigenous Environmental Monitoring: Why Bother?


Indigenous environmental monitoring and management - why bother?

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.  

We also draw on our work on indigenous traditional knowledge in environmental assessments and our work on climate change and the role of indigenous peoples as carbon-sink stewards and cap and trade participants.  Finally, we draw on our collaborative research work with Coral Rapids Power Ltd. of Taykwa Tagmou Nation, funded by Detour Gold Ltd., that examined over 15 mining projects for experiences with environmental monitoring and management: "Aboriginal Participation in Environmental Monitoring and Management in the Canadian Mining Sector- A Scan for Current Best Practices"


17 Benefits from Indigenous Environmental Monitoring:


1) Better coordination between community members, companies, contractors, regulators, neighbouring local governments and natural resource management bodies

2) Trust building among collaborating parties

3) Emergence of new forms of partnerships among collaborating parties, including partnerships for improved environmental governance in a region or watershed and business partnerships for environmental monitoring, management and emergency response services

4) Improved conditions of approval in regulatory permits thanks to better information

5) Active and informed participation of indigenous peoples at the community level through the environmental approval, construction, operations, closure, and/or post-closure phases of projects - and in a growing number of cases, indigenous community leadership in delivering most, or all, of the environmental monitoring required for a project

6) Early discovery and response to environmental change trends and impacts, including climate change impacts on indigenous communities and community responses to climate change
7) Early discovery and response to technical problems, including spills, accidents and malfunctions that do not get detected by automated systems or checklist approaches
8) Using responsive adaptive management approaches to respond to changing environmental realities, land use changes and changing company and community realities
9) Better responses to change by integrating indigenous knowledge into environmental management
10) Building indigeous environmental monitoring employment opportunities - e.g. monitoring functions, management, rehabilitation and emergency response employment - into agreements and adaptive management activities

11) Building indigenous environmental emergency management capabilities and services for fast and efficient responses to spills, accidents and malfunctions with indigenous service providers who have excellent knowledge of how to access remote locations and knowledge of how local environments can respond to indicents
12) Enhancing knowledge building activities, training programs and workshops through real-world activities - including BEAHR training

SHIFT HAPPENS: Key factors of success from environmental monitoring and management case study research overlayed on the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. Source: Shared Value Solutions Ltd.,  "Aboriginal Participation in Environmental Monitoring and Management in the Canadian Mining Sector- A Scan for Current Best Practices"

13) Enhancing regional and watershed understanding of ecosystem functions and dynamics, including indigenous knowledge and climate change understandings 
14) Improving local geographic information system (GIS) mapping and use for environmental management
15) Improvements in regulatory systems and government responses to better account for indigenous knowledge and indigenous environmental monitoring data

16) Better environmental management systems through collaborative design, inclusive of indigenous community representatives

17) Improved capabilities for habitat enhancement for species at risk or species of importance for community livelihoods


IBAs and LTRAs


Taking on community-based environmental monitoring activities as part of construction, operation and closure activities for projects is made easier when IBAs or LTRAs include environmental monitoring committees and/or agreement implementation committees.  It is important that such agreements include flexibility to bring in future monitoring activities, when circumstances or environmental changes (climate change, cumulative effects with new projects, accidents/malfunctions/spills, etc.) happen.  Savvy lawyers and negotiators  involved in negotiating IBAs or LTRAs will bring people with experience to the table to develop the most effective programs that maximize the above opportunities.  Because, SHIFT HAPPENS!

Did You Know?  Shared Value Solutions is embarking on some primary research in collaboration with Dr. Ben Bradshaw at‎ University of Guelph's Department of Geography and Candice Link, MA to update and deepen our previous  paper on Aboriginal Participation in Environmental Monitoring and Management through additional interviews and document review, and to publish our results in a peer-reviewed journal. Stay tuned!"


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About Us - Shared Value Solutions Ltd.:

Businesses and organizations are made up of people. So are communities. Imagine a world where people in industry and government, and people from towns of all sizes, get together to make amazing things happen – things they couldn’t have dreamed up alone. A world where people from corporations get together with people in government or NGOs to explore innovative ways to do business while enhancing the natural and social environment. Join us in Creating Shared Value!

At Shared Value Solutions, we speak your language. And we know that the impossible is possible – with the right people in the circle.

We are an Ontario B Corp and we bring the best engineering, design, environment, architecture and other technical discipline expertise to address your challenges and opportunities: 

  • Strategic Environmental Assessment guidance, coordination and support
  • Collaborative land and resource use planning and management- process design and delivery
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge Studies & Traditional Knowledge Studies
  • Traditional Land Use Studies (TLUS)/ Traditional Land Use and Occupancy Mapping
  • Certified BEAHR Training for Aboriginal Environmental Monitors
  • Design and delivery of programs promoting/supporting positive behaviour change- environmental stewardship, community-based social marketing, health/environmental health promotion, Aboriginal community energy plan initiatives
  • Contributing human environment considerations to technical assessments and management plans in sectors such as water resources, remediation, land use, mining, oil & gas, linear corridor development, forestry, renewable energy, nuclear waste, contaminated sites, brownfield redevelopment, watershed planning, drought planning, water use planning, waste management and waste diversion
  • Indigenous and Industry Partnerships working with First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities
  • Value Engineering & Value Analysis: we facilitate project teams to optimize a project by understanding functions, objectives, costs and social, cultural and environmental considerations.


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