Unprecedented event at IAIA17
From March 30-2 April 2017 the James Bay Cree community of Waskaganish in northern Québec saw an unprecedented IAIA pre-conference gathering of indigenous participants. As part of the Aashukan (“bridge” in eastern Cree) exchange, 16 indigenous representatives from around the world met to share their experiences with EIA processes and to discuss how indigenous communities can balance development with preservation of traditional land and culture. The talks resulted in the Aashukan Declaration, a document that outlines—from an Indigenous perspective— the principles for how impact assessment should be managed.
The group visits a traditional area outside the community. Photo: Niskamoon Corporation.
According to Kepa Morgan, co-chair of the IAIA Indigenous Peoples Section, “Aashukan saw the culmination of several years of strategy and planning that started in 2013 at the IAIA conference in Calgary. An exchange between the Indigenous Peoples Section meeting and the First Nations People performing prior to the [IAIA13] conference dinner crystalized an understanding that future conferences should incorporate a pre-conference activity with the Indigenous People of the area each conference is to be held in.”
Participants were invited by a call to different organizations around the world through existing networks and word-of-mouth. Organizer Marc Dunn noted that “to build bridges between developers and communities … Evidently, this requires a willingness on the part of representatives to do this, and not all communities are prepared to take such a big step.”
On Day 1, the participants held discussions on the dialogue between communities and proponents in the context of IAIA, compiled key points, and participated in a Cree traditional feast.
Group session. Photo: Gaston Cooper.
Day 2 saw facilitated groups working on the findings of Day 1 and producing a common vision, the “Aashukan Declaration,” of development on Indigenous territory.
Sami delegate Niila Inga signs the Aashukan Declaration. Photo: Niskamoon Corporation.
Kepa Morgan, co-chair of IAIA’s Indigenous Peoples Section, says that moving forward, “The Aashukan Declaration will be the legacy that most significantly impacts IAIA’s understanding of best practice in the future. For the Indigenous Peoples Section, the Declaration principles of Indigenous Rights, Relationships, Processes and Rewards will inform the focus of future conference presentation themes and collaborative efforts on special edition of the [IAIA] Journal.”
The event was coordinated by the Indigenous Peoples Section of IAIA with the Aashukan Legacy Committee; the Waskaganish Planning Committee; Marc Dunn, Melanie Saganash, and Cynthia Taylor of the Niskamoon Corporation, and the local community. Niskamoon provides a framework for cooperation between the Cree people and Hydro-Québec, who have a history of development between them.
The event was sponsored by Principal Sponsors Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Hydro-Québec, and airCreebec and by Supporting Sponsors Rural Policy Learning Commons (PRLC), Concordia University, Wabajuu, Nemaska Lithium, Stornoway, Anbaric Development Partners, Goldcorp Éléonore, GoFundMe supporters, and by an IAIA Innovation Grant. Innovation Grants are a competitive source of funds provided by the IAIA Board to encourage members, Sections, Branches and Affiliates to undertake innovative projects to advance the strategic direction of IAIA.
Morgan noted that South African representatives attended the Indigenous Peoples Section meeting at IAIA17 and suggested that a similar event could be organized for IAIA18.