Jessica Clogg is introducing a new approach to land preservation that incorporates both the practical and spiritual knowledge of First Nations people and Western legal codes. Through an attentive process she is empowering First Nations to articulate their ancestral vision for the land and water and translating it into legal tools for sustainable land management.
La idea nueva
Through a process she calls “Transformative Land Reform,” Jessica transfers valuable knowledge from First Nations’ (indigenous) ancestral practices to Western legal code. She integrates the provisions of First Nations traditions with the requirements of British Law to achieve a more sustainable, enforceable land management policy upon which both parties can agree. This turns the wisdom of the First Nations community into a tool for conservation and equalizes the power dynamic between the government, industries, and First Nations.
Jessica’s idea is to trigger a participatory process, which involves the whole tribe in formulating and capturing the ancestral land law. This is especially critical because for centuries First Nations had not written down or translated their ancestral practices for the conservation of natural resources—the basis of their subsistence. Canadian courts have affirmed that First Nations must be consulted and accommodated on land-related decisions. Yet First Nations leaders lacked tools for negotiation with government or industry, and this consultation rarely occurred. The frequent violation of this law created a legal opportunity that Jessica is seizing, facilitating cultural “translation” but also formal training that allows First Nations to advocate for themselves.
Jessica’s work represents more than an effort at mutual understanding or advocacy—she facilitates an actual transfer of knowledge for concrete legal outcomes and better land conservation. In Great Bear, British Colombia, for example, the legal definition of “park” was amended to reflect First Nations’ concerns. The “translation” also works the other way, as First Nations are empowered by deeper knowledge of the legal systems they are working to change. Armed with this integrated understanding of the land and the law, Jessica plans for communities throughout the global Commonwealth (which still uses British Law), to make use of this model of sustainable ecosystem management.
Since the arrival of non-indigenous people in Canada, a new legal framework for access to land has been superimposed on existing land rights and structures governing resource management. As in many other areas of the world, colonizing powers sought to dismantle or disable established modes of land management or control. Beginning early in the last century, resource licensing or tenure systems in Canada were designed to facilitate industrial development of land by large integrated companies. Today the vast majority of the land in the province of British Columbia (B.C.) is controlled by resource extraction companies through long-term licences. This situation is the same in other Canadian provinces and throughout the Commonwealth countries. Corporations are under no obligation to preserve these lands in any specific way when they have used them, thus threatening the ecosystems and the livelihoods earned from the land. What has resulted has been nothing short of environmental disaster: Reduced natural resources, lack of species protection, and polluted waterways.
In the 1970s and 1980s environmental activists and First Nations in B.C. fought ‘valley-by-valley’ conflicts, using public awareness and blockades to achieve some conservation gains. However even these small gains did nothing to restore the balance of power or the structural conditions that determine how land is managed. Further, First Nations leaders lacked full participation in the dialogue, left to use environmental activists from outside their communities as their spokespeople.
Legal structures governing access to land and resources reflect a politics of power and exclusion that lies at the heart of a true sustainability crisis. Laws about the land, including who controls it and what rights and responsibilities they have, shape the fundamental relationship between humans and our environment, and among groups in society. There is a profound lack of understanding on both sides between those who advocate for Western common law and First Nations. For the sake of protecting the land, but also for improved relations between all parties involved, there is an urgent need to re-examine land management and reframe the debate.
Jessica recognized a legal opportunity to change land management law by better incorporating the needs and practices of First Nations peoples. Not only do indigenous people have a stake in the land, they also have hundreds of years of accumulated wisdom about how to manage land in a sustainable manner. Jessica works with First Nations leaders to translate their ancestral vision into a legal tool. Her strategy is designed in four steps: Aspiration, Recovering the Vision, Building Power, and Transformation.
During the “Aspiration” stage, Jessica starts by educating First Nations elders about their legal right to designate and approve land use. She makes sure that the community understands that the process is not about simply replicating or conforming to western resource management approaches. Rather, she emphasises the process of “translating” their own laws and traditions into a form that can be understood by other governments and resource users, but that retains their integrity and meaning. The translation also works in reverse: To put western legal codes into the language and modes of thought of the different communities with whom she works.
In the second step, “Recovering the Vision,” Jessica works as a “cultural translator” with selected First Nations to draw on the accumulated wisdom, tradition, experience, and aspirations of its members, and to articulate the principles that embody their land-use and waters-use vision. The outcome is a written land-use plan that shapes future decisions. A number of projects have been spun off of the visioning exercise Jessica leads, including a First Nations radio station, and advocacy for other rights beyond land use. All serve to strengthen the First Nations community as well as achieve concrete goals of preservation and conservation.
Jessica calls the third step “Building Power.” Jessica guides the communities in applying a series of legal, political, and financial pressure strategies to exercise their Aboriginal Title and Rights. This is the Canadian law that requires that First Nations must provide approval for land-use titles in which they are involved. The goal with each group is to begin by stopping or delaying particular developments, but ultimately systemic law reform. Jessica builds alliances among Nations and with other stakeholders. At this stage Jessica pays particular attention to the needs and roles of youth, engaging them as future tribal leaders.
The last step in Jessica's strategy is “Transformation.” This is the step when the advocacy sees its results, as legal structures must adapt to incorporate the First Nations vision for land-use. For example, First Nations plans are often centred on maintaining the habitat of animals that provide sustenance, such salmon and caribou. This focus is in direct opposition with the priority that western resource management places on planning for resource extraction. Perhaps even more fundamentally, First Nations’ tenure systems focus on a series of interlocking responsibilities to the land, rather than rights to extraction. To truly reconcile the two, the actual laws, not just processes, must bend. An important side-effect of this process is an increased sense of empowerment among First Nations; as they see their culture reflected in national legislation and agendas, their connection to the land is renewed and bolstered, as is their self-identity.
Currently Jessica is working on her replication strategy, refining and extracting the core elements of the approaches and tools that she has used in the two locations were she has been working. She is also designing a replicable framework to identify First Nations colleagues from around the country with an interest and aptitude for facilitating internal visioning, planning, and developing campaign strategies. In the next two years she plans to build a network of individuals who replicate the idea in the Commonwealth countries.
Jessica has been dedicated to the social sector for as long as she can remember. She began volunteering with the Red Cross when she was 13 and initiated a youth training program in order to engage groups of her peers. She became the youngest chapter leader in history and was chosen by her community to represent the local Red Cross group at a provincial level.
As a child Jessica experienced first-hand the disempowerment and the consequences of her community having no control over the uses of land. Her family had to survive a number of floods caused by logging companies. But unlike most she dedicated her life to understand the deepest causes of those events. As a law student she participated in Central America in a land reform project and she came back with the idea of doing something similar in B.C.
Immediately she began to write and advocate for recognition of Indigenous land rights as the legal and ethical foundation for transformative land reform. A chain of events from 2002 to 2004 provided the first signals of how this approach could generate significant political power. During this time, Jessica played a lead role as organizer and resource person for three major province-wide First Nations gatherings, focused on developing joint strategies in the face of the most sweeping amendments to forestry law in 50 years. Through these gatherings, the last one attended by over 3,000 First Nations representatives, a new alliance was formed among treaty and non-treaty nations from around the province directed at getting the provincial and federal governments to “stop their assault on the land and deal honourably with First Nations.” Combined with key court victories and direct action, these events were a key factor in the commitment of the Premier of British Columbia to a “new relationship” with First Nations in 2005.
This was the opening Jessica needed to take her work from advocacy to systemic change. Today, Jessica continues to work in an in-depth manner with a number of nations, and with regional, provincial, and national First Nations political alliances to implement her new idea.