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A unique project for dialogue on Indigenous environmental justice

A unique project for dialogue on Indigenous environmental justice

What does environmental justice mean to Indigenous Peoples? How can it be achieved? These are two foundational questions being addressed by the Indigenous Environmental Justice (IEJ) project, a five-year initiative since 2015 by Osgoode and FES Professor Deborah McGregor that is funded by the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program as well as by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

In photo (L-R) Sue Chiblow, Aimee Craft, Beverly Jacobs, and Deb McGregor

So what is environmental justice? By definition, it refers to the inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of environmental degradation, such that people of colour, the marginalized 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 (in)justice is a constant undercurrent for 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. “Research focused on Indigenous environmental justice (EJ) has not yet occurred in a substantive way in Canada” says McGregor. “If EJ studies are to benefit Indigenous communities, they must include the knowledge, principles and values already held and practiced by Indigenous peoples,” she adds.

The IEJ project is bolstered by a collective of York faculty and students — Dayna Scott from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School; FES graduate students Susan Chiblow, Jayce Chiblow, Dale Hamilton and Dali Carmichael; undergraduate students  Abdeali Hatim Saherwala, Mika MacKinnon, Monica Shaffik, Ethan Persaud-Quiroz and Kim Tran, as well as collaborators from other universities, non-governmental and Indigenous community organizations.

“We hope that this project will be a key resource for community members, students, activists and scholars,” McGregor explains. The project offers support to communities currently fighting an environmental injustice, provides resources to teachers or schools interested in educating students about environmental justice, and creates a place for inclusive dialogue on how to move toward greater justice.

In May 2016, a Indigenous Environmental Justice (IEJ) Knowledge Sharing Symposium was held in which activists, Elders, artists, youth, academics and community members met to discuss the issue of environmental justice and which provided invaluable perspectives to the environmental justice issues and struggles they face and their hopes for change. During the same year up to 2017, a Speaker Series further explored the concept of environmental justice from the perspective of Indigenous women and youth. In the spirit of social justice, most of the IEJ events are live streamed for wider dissemination and knowledge mobilization. Public engagement and outreach activities were further carried out in 2018 (See IEJ Progress Report) and another IEJ research symposium held in November 2019. Activities for 2020 are already posted via the project’s social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, the project provides a variety of opportunities for dialogue, learning and exchange and organizes special events and symposia creating a forum to share ideas, knowledge and experiences to help people understand what environmental justice means. For further info on the project and their activities, visit their website at https://iejproject.info.yorku.ca/ and follow them on Twitter: @theIEJproject.