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Teach Your Children Well: Maximize the Negotiation Impact of Indigenous Knowledge


As we watch with concern as many of our children return to school in this COVID-clouded fall, we send them with the conviction that the learning is worth it. We value education and the places the learning happens. So what about the value of places and sites where the land-based teaching core to many Indigenous cultures take place? To get right to the point of this blog: When a big project like a mine takes away the lands and waters where children best learn about their culture, how do you now “teach your children well” (for a soundtrack here's the link)?


This is the scenario, based on a real-life case study, that we’re using to think through how to gather Indigenous Knowledge that brings potential project impacts to the forefront of negotiations with a resource development proponent. Spoiler alert: demonstrating that your Nation’s critical land use will change because of a proposed project is worth its weight in gold. Read on to learn more about how to do this effectively in your Indigenous Knowledge studies in this latest instalment in our ongoing series, Indigenous Knowledge Matters.


What do you do when a teaching area is slated to become a mine site?

In 2016, we worked with an Indigenous Nation in northern Canada to conduct an Indigenous Knowledge and Land Use Study in relation to a proposed mine. When we worked with community researchers to map out areas of contemporary and historical use, ecological knowledge, and valued components (such as species of particular significance or concern), it was apparent that there was a lot of use of the lands around and on the proposed mine site. This area was a place where community members would go to conduct land-based activities – hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping, for example. It was an area close to home where many community members first learned how to do these activities and where they taught their children and grandchildren.


When we looked at historical and contemporary use, and the deeper value of this area for the people who were using it, it became clear it was a community teaching site. It was a school. The lands and waters were a place for people to come together, to learn about their culture, their way of life, their family, and how to harvest foods and medicines crucial for family and community wellbeing. These lands and waters were a place to grow and to pass down those teachings to the next generations. And if the mine went ahead, current and future ways to access and use these lands and waters would be gone forever.


Looking at current and future land and water use through this lens helped our clients to more effectively negotiate with the mining company and eventually establish an Impact Benefit Agreement that addressed this permanent loss and provided acceptable compensation in line with community priorities.


What information do you need to gather for maximum impact in IBA negotiations?

When you negotiate an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA, now often referred to as a Cooperation Agreement or Long-term Relationship Agreement) it is critical to gather and present the right kind of information to support your case.


Two of the most significant pieces of information – or stories – to gather:

  1. Areas of important historical or contemporary land use and their significance, including teaching sites, and
  2. Examples of how the behavior and lifestyle of Indigenous land and water users will likely change due to the proposed development project, including the major loss of learning of culture, knowledge, and skills that comes with losing teaching sites.
Ask interviewees: What will change?

The first point – documenting historical and current land use and significance - is the evidence most Indigenous Knowledge studies do very effectively – and must, if your position is to have any weight. But the second point is key: Changing, restricting, or stopping certain activities and behaviours can have effects that ripple through generations – especially when those changes make it difficult to teach your children well! A change in activities or behaviours that may seem small today could become permanent, and the experience, knowledge, and cultural community connection that came with that behaviour may be lost.


In Indigenous Knowledge interviews, you may hear people talk about their concerns about changes in activities or behaviours because of a proposed project that sound like this:

  • Concerns about no longer having access to specific sites or areas: “We won’t be able to get there to harvest with our families.”
  • Concerns that the ability to hunt, fish, or gather will be limited or eliminated: “There won’t be a place to put our boats in the water safely, so our families can’t go fishing there anymore.”
  • Concerns that certain ceremonies that require certain materials or access to certain lands will no longer be possible: “That sacred site is going to be out of reach now, and our children will never know how important it is for our people.”
  • Concerns that the habitat for certain species or populations will be affected: “It’s a great spot, close to home, to take our kids to learn how to snare rabbits – but there won’t be any rabbits around with all the noise and commotion from the mine.”

Make sure you ask questions to help interviewees expand on their concerns. Ask them to be as specific as possible, especially about how activities that families do together on the land and water change and may stop learning among family members taking place. Take the above areas of concern and turn them into questions to prompt your interviewees if they don’t immediately know how to answer (without asking leading questions, of course!).


Using our earlier example, losing the area of land that included the proposed mine site meant losing the close family activities of hunting, fishing, and trapping, and passing on those cultural teachings and land-based activities. Because this loss of access to lands and waters was so specifically tied to teaching and learning, it was fairly straightforward to predict that land users’ behaviours would change: a profoundly important teaching site would be lost for generations.


Bring those concerns of potential change to the negotiation table

The Indigenous Nation we worked with negotiated a ground-breaking, robust Impact Benefit Agreement that balanced environmental protections with economic development priorities. To reach that agreement, the voices of the people whose lives would be most directly affected by the loss of use – their perspectives, needs, and ideas – needed to be brought to the table to determine what measures might be effective and acceptable to accommodate the losses.


Ultimately, while the teaching area described above would still be lost, the community gained long-term funding to support Elder and youth connections and learning through land-based activities and other cultural programming. Through a Cooperation Agreement, the community was able to negotiate the accommodation measures that best served their people, needs, and values – on their terms – so they could continue to teach their children well.

Some final considerations: Use a lawyer that “gets it”

A lawyer who has a lot of experience in the regulatory field, in negotiating IBAs and agreements, and who is committed to protecting the rights and interests of Indigenous communities is so important to your success! Your lawyer is a key support for your negotiation of a strong, implementable, binding agreement for environmental protection, economic participation, and whatever else your Nation considers important to include.


Blog Series: Indigenous Knowledge Matters

Welcome to our blog series that explores ways Indigenous Nations have used Indigenous Knowledge Studies (also called Traditional Knowledge or Land Use and Occupancy Studies) to assert jurisdiction, leverage influence in regulatory processes and Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) negotiations, further stewardship and cultural revitalization efforts, and to build capacity.


This series is a celebration of the extraordinary nations and visionary leaders we have had the privilege of working with on Indigenous Knowledge studies from coast, to coast, to coast - with some resources and ideas for you to use in your own journeys. We hope you join us for the rest of the ride.  And please get in touch if there’s a topic you’d like us to explore.


Read other posts in this series:
Looking for help with an Indigenous Knowledge study?

If you know you need help with any aspect of your study, or are trying to figure out how to get started, do give us a shout. We’d be happy to discuss your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of your approach. We’re a team of social researchers who love to talk about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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About Us: Shared Value Solutions

We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power. 


We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward. 





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