4 March 2012

Consultation and cooperation with Indigenous People

Health Impact Assessment is always concerned with community involvement and participation. And many practitioners can agree that ”community participation is intuitively appealing but practically difficult (Parry and Wright 2003).
Even more so when one deals with indigenous people. I had an interesting exchange on this with some colleagues dealing with Social Impact Assessment in Greenland. They were surprised that “experts” and “companies” did not realize that Greenlandic population might be Inuit and inhabit the arctic, but it does not mean that they share the same culture of Canadians and Americans or Russians Inuits
The right of local communities and indigenous people to make informed and voluntary decisions about the transformation happening in their local environments should be the essence of Impact Assessment. There is a recent article written by Paul Klein summarizing some ideas to help corporations have better, more inclusive relationships with indigenous people and communities. And mainly:
1. Spend time learning the history and culture of local indigenous people with the goal of building relationships and trust.
2. Acknowledge the right of indigenous people to informed consent; engage third party experts, chosen in consultation with affected communities, to assess and verify local conditions.
3. Ensure communities have timely access to all relevant information about any proposal affecting indigenous territories and offer resources in formats that are culturally appropriate, available in indigenous languages, and easy to understand.
4. Recognize that indigenous people are seeking the same community goals as corporations: better education, more employment and improved economic opportunities.
5. Understand that indigenous people look at time horizons and development differently and that actions taken must benefit future generations.
6. Remember that there are unique rights that are protected and advanced by indigenous people. Indigenous people have a stewardship relationship with the land; they support development but they must also care for the land.
7. Be realistic. It takes time for communities to respond to employment and business opportunities that are presented by extraction projects. Mining companies need to spend time working with communities to understand and act on those opportunities well in advance of the approval stages.
8. Establish co-management and co-responsibility. Accountability begins with shared responsibility for targets and outcomes.
9. Support local economic development. During the course of a mine’s operations, indigenous communities need to diversify and develop their own economies so that once the mine leaves, there are sustainable gains.
10. Ensure that the community has a consent process in place prior to initiating environmental and social impact assessments.
To the above some readers have added:
11. No two indigenous communities should be considered the same (which caught my attentions about the discussion on Greenland).
12. The right to say no to the proposed development

Do you have any other ideas or recommendations to add?