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What are the features of good land use planning on Indigenous territories?


Annie Webb


Jun 2, 2021


Jun 2, 2021


Land is a fundamental resource for economic development. However, Indigenous peoples see land as much more than just an economic asset: Land provides sustenance for current and future generations, it is linked to spiritual beliefs, traditional knowledge, teachings and culture. Indigenous peoples’ principles, values, and ways of knowing and being, have protected and preserved the land since time immemorial. How do we ensure to balance economic development, environmental protection and Indigenous rights, culture and well-being when negotiating land use planning on Indigenous territories?

The most recent Reconciling Ways of Knowing Forum dialogue, “Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge in Integrated Land Use Planning”, which took place on May 26th, 2021, addressed these issues and more. Distinguished guests including the Canadian Mountain Network’s (CMN) Executive Director Dr. Monique Dubé, Dahti Tsetso, Larry Innes, JP Gladu, and Paul Griss discussed the ways in which Indigenous knowledge and science can be brought together in collaborative decision-making about land use and resource management (also known as ‘integrated land use planning’ or ‘integrated land management’), to best care for the health of the land and planet.

The speakers agreed that a good land use plan provides everyone at the table, from Indigenous communities to industry developers, with a perspective on where development can and cannot occur. The goal is to come to a mutually beneficial decision based on both Indigenous and Western knowledge systems. While it is important to lead from a perspective of protection and conservation, it is also necessary to consider economic development as part of the conversation.

Kluane Provincial Park, Yukon Territory. Photo by ArtTower/8181 images, Pixabay

Kluane Provincial Park, Yukon Territory. Photo by ArtTower/8181 images, Pixabay

The speakers also highlighted that land use planning from the Western scientific viewpoint is still in its infancy in terms of experience, when compared to Indigenous knowledge systems, which were developed over thousands of years to manage large spans of land. Western ways of knowing also assume very different spatial and temporal scales than Indigenous ways. For example, the Western four-year electoral cycle does not reflect the Indigenous “seven generations” principle, where decisions made today need to consider whether those decisions are sustainable for seven generations in the future.

A good land use plan determines who has decision authority and how to proceed if economic development is proposed, whether it be forestry, mining or oil and gas development. A good land use plan offers the potential for consensus on key decision-making processes through good processes. As stated by Dr. Monique Dubé, land use planning recognizes there are trade-offs and the need for give and take. Stakeholders and decision-makers must understand that if everybody gets what they want, no one gets what they need. A land use plan must accept that development does not have to occur everywhere, nor must it occur simultaneously in space and time. With that mindset, innovation and collective decision-making can occur.      

The speakers also noted that the term “land use planning” may perhaps be better defined as “land relationship planning”. Proper relationships between people at the negotiating table begins with the ability to listen respectfully and carefully to what is being said, and find the values they share, instead of jumping to decision they want to make. The ability to speak in the language of the other party is another foundation, which captures the values and principles behind the way people talk about and care for their land and helps incorporate their perspectives into land decision-making.

Good land use planning boils down to finding ways to connect with each other and the land, nation to nation. Most importantly, land relationship planning needs to reflect the beliefs, values and objectives of the people living on that land and support the people of that place. These foundations can help solve some of the world’s most challenging issues, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, and help ensure our survival as a species on this planet.

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