Addressing cumulative effects in the context of sustainability and co-governance in Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in traditional territory, Yukon
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Cumulative effects and impacts associated with non-renewable resource development are issues of sustainability, with potentially significant implications over broad geographic and temporal scales. In Canada, Indigenous authorities and peoples have consistently raised concern with adverse cumulative effects, which continue to impact their homelands and communities. Despite these circumstances, approaches to addressing cumulative effects continue to struggle with implementing a sustainability agenda and the cumulative effects literature has paid little attention to the specific requirements of addressing cumulative effects in the context of co-governance, or shared decision-making involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous authorities. In light of these gaps in understanding and practice, this research involved a case study of the nexus of cumulative effects and co-governance in the Yukon, northern Canada, including detailed work in partnership with Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, a First Nation in the Yukon. This research aimed to answer the following question: How can decision-making structures and processes best be designed and used to address the overall cumulative effects of past, existing, and anticipated activities in the context of concern for sustainability and shared authorities involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous decision-makers? I focussed on the governance system established in part through the modern treaty context in the Yukon, looking most closely at non-renewable resource development in Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in traditional territory. I used an integrative literature review and synthesis to establish a consolidated framework of criteria for the development and application of sustainability-based approaches to addressing cumulative effects in a co-governance context, which was grounded in cumulative effects assessment and management, co-governance and natural resource management, and sustainability assessment literatures. I drew on semi-structured interviews, document analysis, and participative engagement to specify and apply this framework to the case context, as well as identify barriers and opportunities. The findings from this research highlight the centrality of evaluating the design and implementation of approaches to cumulative effects and associated governance structures through an approach informed by co-governance and sustainability literatures. The consolidated framework established, specified, and applied here demonstrated that this combined lens can inform criteria to guide evaluation, understandings of the contexts in which cumulative effects approaches are embedded, and the analysis of current approaches to cumulative effects. Co-governance literature identifies key blind spots and underlying assumptions that may otherwise go unnoticed, new ways of understanding long-established criteria, and possibilities for navigating persistent challenges within the cumulative effects literature. Sustainability criteria similarly recognize and address shortcomings of dominant approaches that often fail to emphasize mutually reinforcing contributions to lasting wellbeing. These criteria can inform how cumulative effects literature understands and operationalizes the concept of sustainability. The findings from this research also draw attention to the importance of the governance structures associated with approaches to addressing cumulative effects. They highlight the need to interrogate the ways that relationships between peoples and the world around them are understood and inform systems of governance, as well as how they may be implicitly invoked through the design and implementation of approaches to cumulative effects. These findings apply to both theory and practice. The case study explored here provided preliminary insights into a specific type of governance arrangement, which centres primarily on governance bodies with appointed, independent membership and limited delegated authority, as well as decision-making determined in part by specific Crown and First Nation land designations, as laid out within a modern treaty. These preliminary insights showed the strengths of such governance arrangements in meeting some criteria, such as the recognition of specific First Nation authorities and rights explicitly laid out in the modern treaty. They also showed potential limitations, including limitations in their ability to create space for a more fulsome understanding that encompasses dimensions of Indigenous governance that exist within and outside of a modern treaty and may challenge dominant systems of governance. Further implications for practice were raised by this research. Given the broad range of potential cumulative effects and associated impacts – as well as interactions among impacts – that are of concern in regions such as the Yukon, reliance on single processes such as regional land use planning as the sole avenue through which cumulative effects will be addressed is unwise. This work highlighted the possibilities that may exist for well-integrated and authoritative interim approaches, in particular those that adopt a broader understanding of the possibilities for co-governance arrangements. It also highlighted the need for attention to areas where shifts in practice can contribute to multiple, mutually reinforcing steps towards sustainability objectives across multiple approaches to cumulative effects, acknowledging that efforts to meet criteria within one area can contribute to building or undermining effectiveness in other areas. Numerous case-specific areas of success, challenges, and opportunities were identified through this research. The broad implications of these findings highlighted some of the inherent tensions within modern treaties in the Yukon, tensions that pre-dated the signing of the treaties and are tied to core components of the dominant governance system. Possibilities for navigating these tensions through the processes and structures for addressing cumulative effects exist if understandings of key principles laid out within these agreements are allowed to evolve, in particular concerning the concepts of sustainable development, wellbeing, and way of life. If understandings of these concepts are allowed to evolve, if non-Indigenous authorities further undertake the work required to develop capacities for co-governance, and if more ambitious interpretations and applications of sustainability are pursued, then their connections to broader understandings of how best to pursue sustainability and engage with Indigenous systems of governance may be strengthened.
Cite this version of the work
Kiri Staples (2022). Addressing cumulative effects in the context of sustainability and co-governance in Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in traditional territory, Yukon. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18330