Context and Objectives of the IEJ Symposium

The concept of Environmental Justice (or Injustice) refers generally to the inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of environmental degradation, such that people of colour and the poor tend to bear a significantly greater portion of the costs, while receiving relatively little in terms of any benefits. In Canada, environmental justice/injustice is a constant undercurrent for arguably most (if not all) environmental challenges that Indigenous peoples face. The field of environmental justice studies therefore forms a critical theoretical and applied framework for addressing key environmental issues of concern to Indigenous peoples in Canada. To date, however, research focused on Indigenous EJ has not yet occurred in a substantive way in Canada. Furthermore, if EJ studies are to benefit Indigenous peoples, then they must include knowledge, principles and values already held and practiced by Indigenous peoples. An important way to include and hear the voices and experiences of Indigenous peoples is to engage directly in sharing knowledge through a symposium.

The Indigenous Environmental Justice Knowledge Sharing Symposium is part of a larger project titled “Indigenous Environmental (In)Justice - Theory and Practice” that seeks to better understand environmental justice (EJ) based on the knowledge and experience of Indigenous peoples. This research is more than simply the inclusion of Indigenous peoples, knowledge, voices and perspectives into existing EJ frameworks; it seeks instead to develop a distinctive framework that is informed by Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), laws, concepts of justice and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples.

This research will be achieved in part through the exploration of key research questions, such as the following:

  • What does the term ‘Indigenous environmental justice’ (IEJ) mean?
  • How do Indigenous peoples conceptualize EJ?
  • How can EJ be addressed?
  • When is EJ achieved?
  • How do Indigenous women and youth understand and activate their roles regarding EJ?
  • What role do Indigenous Traditional Knowledge systems play in understanding EJ?
  • How do Indigenous world views or ‘ways of knowing’ inform Indigenous understandings of EJ?
  • What role do Indigenous languages play in conceptualizing EJ?
  • What role does art or creative expression play in conceptualizing EJ?
  • What roles do Indigenous laws and legal orders play in understanding or achieving EJ?
  • What role does governance play in understanding or achieving EJ?
  • What processes and principles guide EJ?

Indigenous justice inquiries and commissions in Canada, including the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Ipperwash Inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, have revealed that Canadian conceptions and practices of justice have routinely failed, and continue to fail, Indigenous peoples