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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Speaking for sockeye, speaking for themselves : First Nations engagement in the Cohen Commission (2009 - 2012) Clarkson , Molly


This thesis examines First Nations’ perspectives on sockeye conservation through the 2009-2012 Commission to Inquire into the Decline of the Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, struck in response to low and falling sockeye returns. Specifically, this project asks: what can the experiences of First Nations participants at the Cohen Commission tell us about creating more space for the consideration of Indigenous peoples' knowledges and perspectives about conservation in natural resource planning and management processes? Interviews with First Nations leaders and technical and legal staff, as well as a review of Commission documents and transcripts, suggest that integration, holism, and place form some of the key characteristics of First Nations peoples’ understandings of sockeye conservation. However, those interviewed for this study identified a significant number of structural and procedural challenges and constraints to their ability to have their approach to sockeye conservation understood and incorporated into the findings and final recommendations of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry. In addition, the federal government’s failure to act (before 2016 at least) on the recommendations was perceived as a significant barrier to sockeye salmon conservation and, in turn, to the wellbeing of First Nations cultures and communities. The research findings and associated recommendations of this study align with a number of mechanisms to support transformative planning processes and outcomes previously identified in the Indigenous Planning and associated literatures. These include the development of collaborative planning structures that recognize and create space for the differing rights and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples. In addition, this study highlights the importance of developing mechanisms to ensure state accountability to respond to completed plans. The study concludes with three recommendations for reforming future natural resource planning processes that relate to First Nations’ rights, responsibilities and interests: 1) accord more space and consideration in planning to First Nations’ knowledges and worldviews; 2) engage First Nations in the development of planning mandates and procedural frameworks; 3) ensure at the onset of planning processes that policies are in place to ensure that plan outcomes are reviewed by the government(s), implementation strategies are developed and/or rationales are provided for inaction.

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