New research: Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada

New peer-reviewed article in FACETS suggests that Indigenous-led Environmental Assessment processes in Canada would overcome deep-rooted obstacles in new Impact Assessment Act that prevent authentic participation of First Nations and engagement of Indigenous knowledge.

A new peer-review article by a team of non-Indigenous and Indigenous researchers identifies surmountable and deep-rooted obstacles to improving how the federal Impact Assessment Act incorporates Indigenous Knowledge and engages with Indigenous Knowledge systems. 

Researchers at the University of Victoria, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law, and the University of Guelph analysed the newly-passed Bill C-69, now the Impact Assessment Act, as well as 19 peer-reviewed papers that had examined previous environmental assessment acts in Canada.

This article, “Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada: applying past lessons to the 2019 impact assessment act,” published in the journal FACETS details how federal decision-making processes are ‘inherently at odds’ with authentically engaging Indigenous Knowledge. 

Lead author Lauren Eckert (a UVic PhD student) explains that environmental assessment processes have the potential to generate environmentally-sound, socially-equitable decisions across Canada.

“Without fundamental shifts in the way current policy relates to, engages, and recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples and their knowledge, outcomes may continue to lead to conflict between federal and Indigenous governments.” – Lauren Eckert, Raincoast Conservation Foundation Fellow and Vanier Scholar, University of Victoria (UVic) PhD candidate

“Indigenous knowledge systems are extensive, complex, and deeply rooted in the land.  Canada’s environmental assessment processes must engage with Indigenous Knowledge,” said co-author Nick XEMŦOLTW̱ Claxton, Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria, and elected Chief of the Tsawout Nation. For Dr. Claxton, who represented Tsawout Knowledge Holders in federal environmental assessment processes related to proposed Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipelines, this work also included recounting of professional and personal experience as he faced federally-appointed panel-members.

Obstacles and Limitations to Engaging Indigenous knowledge in federal Environmental Assessment Processes Equitably and Authentically.
Obstacles and limitations to engaging Indigenous Knowledge in federal environmental assessment processes equitably and authentically. Also used as Figure 1: Obstacles and their components positioned within the context of parties involved in a typical federal environmental assessment process.


Eckert LE, Claxton NX, Owens C, Johnston A, Ban NC, Moola F, and Darimont CT. 2020. Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada: applying past lessons to the 2019 impact assessment act. FACETS 5: 1–23. doi:10.1139/facets-2019-0039


Policy-makers ideally pursue well-informed, socially just means to make environmental decisions. Indigenous peoples have used Indigenous knowledge (IK) to inform decisions about environmental management for millennia. In the last 50 years, many western societies have used environmental assessment (EA) processes to deliberate on industrial proposals, informed by scientific information. Recently EA processes have attempted to incorporate IK in some countries and regions, but practitioners and scholars have criticized the ability of EA to meaningfully engage IK. Here we consider these tensions in Canada, a country with economic focus on resource extraction and unresolved government-to-government relationships with Indigenous Nations. In 2019, the Canadian government passed the Impact Assessment Act, reinvigorating dialogue on the relationship between IK and EA. Addressing this opportunity, we examined obstacles between IK and EA via a systematic literature review, and qualitative analyses of publications and the Act itself. Our results and synthesis identify obstacles preventing the Act from meaningfully engaging IK, some of which are surmountable (e.g., failures to engage best practices, financial limitations), whereas others are substantial (e.g., knowledge incompatibilities, effects of colonization). Finally, we offer recommendations for practitioners and scholars towards ameliorating relationships between IK and EA towards improved decision-making and recognition of Indigenous rights.

Select figures

Figure 3

Figure two, from Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada
Fig. 2. We examined whether obstacles preventing integration of Indigenous knowledge are likely surmountable (x-axis) and addressed by Impact Assessment Act (y-axis). Numbers correspond to obstacle components (as labeled in Fig. 1), colors represent obstacle category, and the size of each bubble corresponds to the number of reviewed papers that cited the obstacle component. The specific location of each circle within each quadrant, however, is arbitrary, and designed for optimal visualization.


Lauren E. Eckert, Nick XEMŦOLTW_ Claxton, Cameron Owens, Anna Johnston, Natalie C. Ban, Faisal Moola, Chris T. Darimont

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