Monday, March 10, 1997

The quagmire that is traditional knowledge

A single article in a journal read mostly by southern policy analysts has caused quite a stir among Northern bureaucrats, and it's a debate that we welcome with open arms.

Albert Howard and Frances Widdowson's argument that the GNWT's policy on the use of traditional knowledge in scientific research is, in our opinion, less than convincing. Among the most serious, and surprising, conclusions in their Policy Options article is that forcing someone to take traditional knowledge into account violates freedom of religion guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Because the government defines traditional knowledge as a "spiritual" concept, Widdowson, a policy analyst for the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, says religion is being imposed upon her.

But "spiritual" does not imply one religion or another any more than does the Canadian Constitution, which begins with the following line:

"Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law."

If we can get past this rhetorical red herring, there is a much more important issue to debate. Just what is "traditional knowledge" and how should it be used?

Many Northern scientists are doing their best to respect aboriginal traditions and work closely with aboriginal elders who have much to contribute to Western scientific methodology. But the fact remains that few territorial civil servants and, it would seem, few MLAs are able to supply a consistent and straightforward explanation of what traditional knowledge means.

Howard and Widdowson, regardless of the merits of their arguments, are forcing a needed examination of GNWT policy on traditional knowledge. And until there is widespread consensus on the meaning of those two words, confusion and conflict will continue to dominate the subject. ( 3/10/97 )

Grassroots debate

It's encouraging to see hearings on the draft constitution for the Western NWT are scheduled to begin in Mackenzie Delta communities this week.

After the release of the draft proposal, political players and media pundits all had their say and it was a lively discussion. Now it is time for the people to speak. The only hope for general consensus on a new constitution is if everyone gets a chance to voice their opinions and they are listened to carefully.

As Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Antoine has emphasized, everything is open to debate. So let the debating begin, this time in the communities. ( 3/10/97 )

Get a grip!

The days of using the North as a dumping ground for hazardous garbage are over. Or are they?

Canada's military minds recently asked Health Canada officials to review PCB regulations that forbid the chemical's burial. Our Defence Department has junk covered with PCB-laden paint at defunct DEW Line sites it wants to bury here rather than fly south for incineration.

While it's commendable that the military, in co-operation with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, is cleaning up the mess, just asking a Ottawa to re-think the rules is lunacy.

Get a grip. The North is not your, or anyone else's, dumping ground any more. ( 3/10/97 )