Indigenous peoples have been monitoring and managing their homelands and waters for millennia, guided by knowledge systems that have evolved through generations of close relationships with their territories. Governments and resource management scholars, agencies and practitioners are increasingly appreciating or being mandated to include Indigenous knowledge in their research, policies and practices, including environmental monitoring. Monitoring initiatives that involve Indigenous peoples and their knowledge now exist on a spectrum of relative participation from autonomous to externally led, with varying degrees of power sharing in determining monitoring objectives, methods, and management actions. This paper highlights an example of autonomous Indigenous monitoring on the north coast of what is now known as British Columbia, Canada.
Following the community-led design of a monitoring program rooted in the knowledge and observations of harvesters and knowledge holders from the Gitga’at Nation, we analyzed interviews conducted with 42 knowledge holders and workshop notes to build a framework of the concepts and indicators that Gitga’at participants focus on while harvesting. What emerged was an interconnected network of ecological, social and linked social-ecological concepts, processes and indicators including, but not limited to, the abundance and quality of cultural keystone species, weather patterns, the intensity of harvesting, sharing and trading, and cultural continuity. We illustrate changes in the social-ecological system drawing on observations made by interviewees about these indicators.
Though the monitoring framework is a simplified representation of human-nature relationships that are not divided into social or ecological components in Gitga’at thinking, it illustrates the ways in which Gitga’at harvesters care for their lands, waters and people through. We go on to discuss how local culturally relevant indicators can inform larger scale monitoring initiatives, and ways in which scientific monitoring methods can and have been leveraged within the existing Indigenous frameworks. We highlight the importance of relational values, a desired set of human-nature relationships, within the monitoring framework and how this parallels what sustainability scholarship has been encouraging on national and international scales. Finally, we encourage Canadian environmental and resource management agencies to recognize, learn from, and ultimately support pre-existing relational processes of Indigenous monitoring and management.