REFLECTION – Co-Management Defined

With contribution from Sam Wells.

The process of reconciliation between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples has been characterized by a series of patchwork initiatives that have lacked integration.

While some of these initiatives may have carried positive impacts, institutional frameworks are necessary to ensure that reconciliation can be advanced in a manner that is consistent and equitable. One such institutional framework that offers strong potential is that of co-management.

In the broadest sense, co-management refers to the joint management of resources between two parties, often the State and a local community. In the context of reconciliation, co-management could refer to the collaborative management of resources between the Government of Canada and localized Indigenous communities.

Co-management bodies are often formally structured as councils or boards that provide equal membership and weight to all stakeholders.

Take, for example, the network of co-management authorities that work together under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act in the Northwest Territories.

Environmental Assessments and land and water regulation are entirely managed by co-management structures with 50% of the representatives appointed by government and the other 50% either appointed or chosen by Indigenous organizations according to the land claim agreement that applies.

Co-management bodies can also feature a Chairperson that is jointly appointed by all members of the board via a defined procedure that gives everyone a voice.

Generally, the appointment of the Chair would require unanimous approval from all board members, and the individual appointed to the position would need to possess strong facilitation skills and a degree of neutrality.

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Co-management can be an effective tool to advance reconciliation with respect to land, water and resource development issues. It recognizes Indigenous authority through their representatives in the management of resources and lands in the decision-making process.  The powers of a co-management body must be clearly defined ideally in a statute. This has been federally in a number of instances to implement modern treaties particularly in northern Canada.

Co-management also allows for assessing traditional Indigenous by informing decision-making related to both renewable and non-renewable resource development.  Such knowledge is being recognized and applied in responding to remediating contaminated sites as well as pipeline proposals.

Decision-making that is based on traditional knowledge helps ensure that resources are effectively utilized with stewardship towards future generations.

Co-management ultimately provides an institutionalized approach to resource management that is both consistent and equitable, thus advancing reconciliation. The use of co-management bodies is much more effective in reconciling Indigenous, public and private rights than traditional federal or provincial regulatory authorities that rely solely on consultations to inform decision-making. 

Federal and provincial governments should adopting co-management structures as part of advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples across Canada.