Accepted Paper:

Legitimacy on stage: discourse and knowledge in environmental review processes in Northern Canada  


Thea Luig (University of Alberta)

Paper short abstract:

Using discourse analysis based on fieldwork in Northern Canada this paper investigates the interplay of discourse adaptation and knowledge production within a context of neo-colonial structural power during environmental review processes for a major pipeline project.

Paper long abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper investigates the interplay of discourse and knowledge within a context of structural power during public hearings for the environmental review of a proposed pipeline project in Canada.

Despite much improved provisions for Aboriginal participation in political and economic decision-making, negotiations between the Canadian government and northern Aboriginal people are often described as frustrating and unsatisfying by individuals involved in them. Analyzing formal procedures of the hearing process as well as interview data, I argue that legal adaptations and participatory processes are wrapped in a discourse conforming with international demands to respect indigenous rights, but, in fact, are orchestrated in a way that favours the alliance of the state, corporations, and administrative professionals; thus, ruling out effective influence of local indigenous people. Northern Aboriginal groups face those challenges by utilizing discourses from international human rights and environmental movements as a tool to legitimize land-claim and self-determination demands, therewith attempt to transform articulations of identity into political and economic capital. As I will show, although the public discourse of the different agents involved is framed in symbolism that suggests mutual understanding and aims to generate support from the wider public, modes of knowledge production anchored in science/technology versus primary experience continue to de-legitimize one another, therefore precluding an efficient dialogue . Uncovering these mechanisms, anthropological work might add to the means for indigenous groups to lessen their structural disadvantage in their efforts for self-determination within processes that are designed to perpetuate existing hierarchies.

Panel W035
Indigenous, autochthonous and national identities? Strategic representations, political struggles and epistemological issues (atelier bilingue - anglais et fran├žais)