International Association for Impact Assessment


  • Learn more about the Harmonized Impact Assessment model used by Niiwin Wendaanimok and Narratives.

    IAIA CEO Gary Baker chats with George Kakeway (representing Niiwin Wendaanimok) and Somia Sadiq (representing Narratives) – their Harmonized Impact Assessment model used on the Twinning of the TransCanada Highway 17 Project was recently recognized with the 2024 Corporate Initiative Award. Find the entire transcript below.

    Gary Baker, IAIA CEO:  Hello, again. We are back to find out a little bit more about some of the award winners for 2024. I am delighted today to be joined by some co-recipients of our Corporate Initiative Award. This award is aimed at trying to identify particular projects which have made an important contribution to environmental or impact assessment work, wherever it might be in the world. This is quite an interesting one, I think, as we delve into the reasons for the award. This goes to a partnership that's based in Canada that came up with a very innovative way of looking at a highway extension. That is a really crude way of trying to explain it. To do a much better job, I am joined by George Kakeway and Somia Sadiq. Let me just hand over to you to explain a little bit more about the background of the project and what was involved in this.

    George Kakeway, representing Niiwin Wendaanimok:  First of all, thanks for this interview. We are always taught by elders, knowledge keepers, about our sacred relationship to the land, and that's specific in the treaty process. I think the key is that because of our sacred relationship, we apply our spiritual traditional laws into our process that we’ve been using in the twinning of the highway. It's about how we respect the environment, how we are connected to all beings or all animals, the water and the spiritual connections to that. That's what we were always taught by elders and keeping that in mind, I think that's the process that we went through and followed throughout the twinning of the highway.

    Gary: We have broadly termed it Harmonized Impact Assessment. Does that capture the true essence of it?  You have said a little bit about more traditional forms of knowledge -- how does that come to bear with what impact assessment might be in areas outside of Canada or elsewhere, where there are indigenous relationships to bear in mind?

    George: One of the keys to that process is we are guided by the Manito Aki Inakonigaawin and the acronym HIA which we call Harmonization Impact Assessment, which brings together Anishinaabe knowledge, teachings, and customs, with protocol and the best practice of impact assessment. That's the real key to how we move forward. When you talk about the harmonization assessment and its traditional knowledge forums, a foundation of the Harmonization Impact Assessment and is used to identify potential impacts to the land, waters, soils, skies, and guides the monitoring ongoing care and protection of the environment. At its core, traditional knowledge is gathered through respectful and meaningful engagement with elders and knowledge keepers in the community. This engagement happens through various means, including community presentations, individual interviews, and facilitating group discussions, which a lot of time is guided by our spirituality and how we do ceremonies prior to these discussions and presentations. In a lot of sense, we're going back to pre-Columbian practices and processes, which we never forgot. Today we're still part of that process. This law describes the way of living in harmony with Earth. As I said, we're all connected, and this has existed since time immemorial. We haven't forgotten who we are as Anishinaabe people. The process is guided by four key principles called ‘Wiwine’. It means taking our time. When you talk about industry and government, you've got to consider money. We've got to start this project sooner than later, because it's really about how they're trying to protect the investors who are the key in taking shortcuts and how we begin to build major infrastructure projects. And ‘Bebekaa’, meaning let's do it right. There's no rush, do it right. Also, ‘Biiziindun’ -- listening isn't done. These are key principles in a just harmonization assessment.  We will listen to your signs, but you’ve got to listen to us about traditional knowledge and how we implement traditional knowledge and science as harmonization into a process agreed by the two parties. The other one, ‘Kegogtachken’ -- let's move forward. Don't be afraid of us, we're not afraid of you. Let's sit down together and have a good conversation here. We might disagree. We might agree to disagree. Then how do you work on agreement on how we disagree to agree? Let's develop a process on how we could come to the table, stare at each other eye to eye, just trying to understand each other. That’s the harmonization impact assessment.

    Gary: Do you get the sense that this particular project, and others, have been multi-stage? Has it become easier, as that's been more recognized -- what that process looks like? Or is it sort of starting all over again on each project?

    George: The basic process is there, called Manito Aki Inakonigaawin -- the great Earth law, we call it. All the key principles are there. How that process begins to work is how I described it. In terms of how you build a relationship, say with Ontario or Canada, for that matter, it's that beginning of that relationship. It's about trust. It's about understanding. It's about economy and transparency. You know, all these key principles. And honor. These key principles are the major rolling principles that are terms of how we begin to discuss. The last thing you want at the table are lawyers. We don't need lawyers at the table. You're a nation, we're a nation. Why would you need a lawyer? I want to talk to you; I don't want to talk to your lawyer. That's the key principle; how we begin to do that. What we did is we put this Manito Aki Inakonigaawin at the table. They did not understand it. They said, trust us. We're not going to, nothing to fool here. Everything is accountable and transparent. If you can't look me in the eye, that means that there's something wrong with your own personal vision. That's the key, that trust. Once you establish that trust, then you begin to form a partnership, which was a twinning of the highway. Within that partnership, there's economy and transparency and how you begin to, in that process, protect the environment. We're not only looking after the environment for ourselves. You have to think in the long term. Think about your children, your great-grandchildren, and generations to come. Are they going to live in a world of pollution? I don't think that's fair for future generations, but I think that's the key value into this process.

    Gary: I'm sure that a lot of the members would be nodding heads on that, and they'd certainly be agreeing with you trying to keep lawyers out of the room, that's for sure. And Somia, how did the relationship, your partnership, come about in terms of ending up where we are now?

    Somia Sadiq (representing Narratives):  Thank you, Gary. Narrative's role has been in the background supporting the Nations as the Nations pursued this path. For my part, I'm very much guided by my ancestors and my ancestral knowledge that comes from Punjab and Kashmir. That's my home, that's where I come from. I'm a guest on Turtle Island. For Narratives, this journey has been about walking alongside the Nations in what the Nations are pursuing. For us, it's been a deep, deep honor to be able to be invited into ceremony with the Nations to learn from elders and knowledge keepers and law keepers such as George. We still make lots of mistakes as we go along, but we learn from those mistakes.

    My technical background is in that western sort of impact assessment realm. It's been really powerful to see how impact assessment can be done differently, can be done in a manner that really honors Indigenous law, Indigenous custom, Indigenous rituals and practices, and approaches. That is really what lies at the heart of this process. George talked about some of those principles and for us, one of the key principles has been theKegogtachken’, the don't be afraid, because that is really where we're pushing the boundaries of impact assessment. How do we make sure that the process is rooted in a system that is respectful to the first peoples of the land that honors their experiences, their knowledge, and their laws? It's been a really powerful journey, and we're so honored to be a part of it with the nations.

    Gary: That's a really great introduction to this. I'm sure this is going be a new area for many of the members who have not necessarily come across it, but what I love is the tie-in to our conference theme of just transformation and equity and justice. You've got to get people who are impacted by decisions around the table, represented and having a voice. That struck me the more that I've read about this particular partnership and scheme, just how important that has been. Thank you both for sharing a little bit of what the background to it is. I'm sure we will get follow ups and questions when people get a chance to understand more about this. But for now, thank you very much and congratulations on the award.

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