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Novel approaches to restoring Indigenous governing authority over lands and waterways

Novel approaches to restoring Indigenous governing authority over lands and waterways

What is the relationship between infrastructure and jurisdiction? How can remaking the material systems that sustain collective life enact Indigenous jurisdiction? How can the “just transition” to sustainable economies be imagined and infrastructured to foreground Indigenous knowledges and governance systems?

These are the questions that Osgoode-EUC Professor Dayna Nadine Scott and project co-director Professor Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark (University of Victoria) seek to explore in their $2.4M SSHRC Partnership Grant on Infrastructure Beyond Extractivism: Material Approaches to Restoring Indigenous Jurisdiction. The funding will enable Scott and her collaborators to continue support for Indigenous land defenders across several bioregions who are working to build up and restore vital infrastructures in their territories.

Scott’s own project continues in partnership with Neskantaga First Nation which is launching a new youth-focused Lake Sturgeon Stewardship program, Namekaa Gaagige, in the face of extractive pressures in the Attawapiskat River watershed due to the proposed development of the Ring of Fire. The project aims to generate insights about the relationship between infrastructure and jurisdiction, and to evaluate strategies for reclaiming and restoring Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and waters through the generation of vital infrastructures against extractivism.

The 6-year project brings together scholars and experienced community leaders from several Indigenous nations with four University partners: York University (York) (including Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change), the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Department of Geography and Planning, and the two leading Indigenous-led research institutes in the country – the University of Victoria's Centre for Indigenous Research and Community Engagement (CIRCLE) and the Yellowhead Institute (YI) at Toronto Metropolitan University. The project includes 19 academics and land defenders from across the country pursuing research oriented towards how the “just transition” to sustainable economies can be imagined and infrastructured to restore Indigenous jurisdiction, laws and governance systems.

The team will work in dynamic clusters across various North American bio-regions – the Great Lakes, the Boreal Lowlands, and the Pacific Northwest. The Great Lakes bioregion includes the varied woodlands surrounding Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, Michigan, and Ontario encompassing nearly 250,000 square kms. The Pacific Northwest region includes over a million square kms stretching from southern Alaska to Oregon. The Boreal Lowlands includes the vast boreal forests and wetlands surrounding Hudson’s Bay and covering 320,000 square kms.

The partnership project will systematically document and evaluate strategies for restoring Indigenous jurisdiction through three thematic clusters: 1) Food, Energy, and Water Systems; 2) Cables, Routes, and Rail; and 3) Law, Land-based Learning, and Knowledge Exchange.

“The organization into these clusters reflects the way the research team conceives of first, the infrastructure to support the absolutely vital, life-giving elements of food, energy and water; second, the linear infrastructure that connects people, goods and services, and the networks necessary to support these systems; and third, the law and land-based learning that is essential to reclaiming jurisdiction through the re-making of these infrastructures,” notes Scott.

In terms of expected contribution to knowledge, it is anticipated that the team of scholars and practitioners will be in a position to advance conceptual understandings in three core areas: jurisdiction, infrastructure and extractivism -- but specifically on their relation to each other. The team hopes that momentum and excitement generated by this partnership will also catalyze a rapid uptake of these ideas into the mainstream policy realm. Further, the project will produce a new cohort of scholars and practitioners with expertise and training in material approaches to building Indigenous jurisdiction.

Through the three thematic cluster approach, the project is expected to mitigate habitat destruction through improved land and water stewardship; generate knowledge about how best to organize and implement the restoration of jurisdiction through infrastructure; stimulate a new field of academic study; and provide inspiration for all communities that want to work towards more sustainable economies.

“We offer a transformative way forward: a fundamentally new set of relations based on different underlying assumptions about law and land. It is a vision that insists the future is not foreclosed, but full of potential for renewed relations of jurisdiction and infrastructure,” Scott adds.

Dayna Nadine Scott is York Research Chair in Environmental Law & Justice in the Green Economy. She is also a co-Principal Investigator, with Professor Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark in a New Frontiers in Research Fund project on “Jurisdiction Back: Infrastructure Beyond Extractivism.” Scott has been a project investigator and co-investigator on several SSHRC-funded projects, including Insight Grants on “Consent & Contract: Authorizing Extraction in Ontario’s Ring of Fire” alongside collaborators from Neskantaga First Nation and “Confronting Chronic Pollution” in partnership with activists from Aamjiwnaang First Nation on law’s treatment of the risks of long-term, low-dose exposures to pollution in Canada’s Chemical Valley. She also participated in a Partnership Development Grant on “Reconciling Sovereignties: New Techniques for ‘Authorizing’ Extraction on Indigenous Territories” with the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) and MiningWatch Canada