What is Indigenous knowledge?
There is no single definition of Indigenous knowledge. For our purposes, we understand “Indigenous knowledge” as a term that refers to a set of complex knowledge systems based on the worldviews of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous knowledge reflects the unique cultures, languages, governance systems and histories of Indigenous peoples from a particular location. Indigenous knowledge is dynamic and evolves over time. It builds on the experiences of earlier generations and adapts to present conditions. First Nations, Inuit and Métis each have a distinct way of describing their knowledge. Knowledge-holders are the only people who can truly define Indigenous knowledge for their communities.
Indigenous knowledge in project reviews and regulatory decisions
The Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-Crown relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
On June 21 2019, the Government of Canada passed legislation that put in place new requirements to protect Canada’s environment, people and property, fish and fish habitat and waterways including navigability, and build public confidence in how decisions about resource development are made. The new requirements also provide for project reviews and regulatory decisions to be informed by the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and require decision-makers to consider any Indigenous knowledge provided.
The Government of Canada recognizes that Indigenous knowledge improves project reviews and regulatory decisions by:
- Providing a more complete understanding of
- Indigenous worldviews,
- Indigenous cultures,
- the environment, and
- the social, health and economic conditions of Indigenous peoples;
- Providing a better understanding of potential impacts of projects;
- Improving project design when projects are approved;
- Strengthening mitigation and accommodation measures that proponents must follow; and
- Contributing to more effective long-term monitoring of project impacts.
The ActsFootnote 1 require that Indigenous knowledge be taken into account or considered when it is provided for the following:
- Impact, strategic and regional assessments;
- Federally-regulated pipeline and power line certificates;
- Approvals under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act; and
- Fisheries Act authorizations (fish and fish habitat).
Protection of confidential Indigenous knowledge
The Acts also include provisions to protect Indigenous knowledge from unauthorized disclosure in the context of project reviews and regulatory decisions, when provided in confidence. Any Indigenous knowledge shared in confidence with the relevant Minister or organization (Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canada Energy Regulator, and a strategic or regional assessment committee or review panel under the Impact Assessment Act) is confidential. It must not be disclosed without written consent unless:
- it is already publicly available;
- the disclosure is necessary for the purposes of procedural fairness and natural justice or for use in legal proceedings; or,
- the disclosure is authorized in the circumstances set out in regulations.
In the situation where confidential information could be disclosed, before that happens, consultation must occur with the Indigenous community and the person who would receive the information, to limit the nature of the disclosure including any potential conditions for sharing the knowledge.
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