As Indigenous Peoples around the world face new and increasing forms of extractive pressure in their traditional territories, what opportunities do they have to exercise agency and protect their interests in local resource governance processes? In Indigenous Peoples, Natural Resources and Governance: Agencies and Interactions, editors Tennberg, Broderstad and Hernes seek to broaden their readers’ understanding of Indigenous resource governance dynamics by showcasing a wide range of case studies from settler States in the circumpolar Arctic (Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada) and Oceania (New Zealand, Australia). Throughout this interdisciplinary collection, the editors’ and contributors’ focus is on the diverse and evolving interactions between Indigenous Peoples, State actors, and extractive industry players, which are shown to vary significantly across geopolitical and socioeconomic contexts.
Political scientists Hernes, Broderstad and Tennberg open the collection by summarizing core Indigenous rights and governance concepts and introducing their chosen theoretical framework: a ‘governance triangle’ highlighting the respective roles of State, industry, and Indigenous actors, as well as the governance mechanisms that mediate their interactions. In Chapter 2, Broderstad examines a rare Sámi victory against a proposed wind development in Kalvvatnan, wherein the Norwegian government took a precautionary approach and withdrew a permit that would have violated reindeer herders’ right to cultural protection by exacerbating pre-existing development impacts. This victory stands in sharp contrast to Chapter 3’s discussion of unsuccessful Sámi court challenges to the Norrbäck and Pauträsk wind projects. Through their joint analysis, legal scholars Cambou and Borg and expert witnesses Sandström and Skarin reveal how the proponents’ minimal efforts to mitigate anticipated project impacts facilitated the Swedish appeal court’s willingness to prioritize national green energy goals over Indigenous rights. In Chapter 4, Broderstad, Sámi scholar Brattland, and political economy scholar Howlett highlight how Norway’s and New Zealand’s differing “discursive, legal and institutional realities” (59) both enable and constrain Sámi and Māori efforts to influence or benefit from aquaculture licensing processes in their respective marine territories. The fact that State-mediated processes constitute Indigenous Peoples’ main point of engagement with resource governance in all of these case studies lends support to the editors’ contention that the State remains the “most prominent actor” (14) in the governance triangle. However, the balance of the collection deals with mining, an area in which direct Indigenous-industry engagement and deal-making is becoming increasingly common.
In Chapter 5, sociologist Goloviznina explores how Russia’s apparent disinterest in protecting Indigenous rights or mediating Indigenous-industry interactions has left the Evens of Yakutia little choice but to engage directly with mining corporations and try to use moral and reputational arguments to safeguard their interests. Sociologist Sam-Aggrey’s examination of Tlicho resource governance in Chapter 6 suggests that while First Nations that have entered into modern treaties with the Canadian State exert far more regulatory influence than their Russian counterparts, the Indigenous-industry agreements that have simultaneously become a central feature of mining governance in northern Canada have proved to be a mixed blessing for Indigenous signatories. In Chapter 7, political scientist Slowey argues that First Nations whose relations with the Canadian State are not mediated by modern treaties have far less leverage in resource governance and remain vulnerable to the whims of State actors, as illustrated by the Ontario government’s willingness to use the COVID-19 emergency to dismantle procedural safeguards and expedite mining approvals in northern Ontario.
In Chapter 8, Howlett and political scientist Lawrence offer a trenchant critique of the neoliberal logics underlying Indigenous-industry agreements in Australia and beyond. They conclude that “in the absence of an Indigenous veto over resource developments, there is no such thing as a fair and just negotiated agreement” (154). Indigenous Studies scholar Gjelde-Bennett offers a complementary critique of Sámi-State relations in Chapter 9, which examines the long-standing Kallak mine dispute in northern Sweden through the lens of competing neoliberal and Indigenous paradigms. While working “within the neoliberal political system in order to gain legitimacy” (167) may be the most effective way for Sámi to resist such projects, Gjelde-Bennett cautions that “appealing to liberal and neoliberal values of universal human rights and international rule of law” (167) may also undermine Sámi interests by helping to “uphold the ultimate authority of the state” (174).
In their concluding chapter, Tennberg, Broderstad and Hernes return to the governance triangle and associated theoretical frameworks in order to draw conclusions from a synthesized view of the case studies. As a result of the contributors’ limited and often confusing attempts to engage with those theoretical frameworks in their respective chapters, the editors’ heavy reliance on those frameworks makes the concluding chapter feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the collection, even as the editors reach insightful conclusions about the evolving state of resource governance. Certain elements of the editors’ findings could also benefit from more nuance, such as their suggestion that “states will still have a central role in leveling the playing field for Indigenous peoples” (187), which implies that the playing field can in fact be leveled and that States can be expected to facilitate this leveling. This aspiration seems unlikely to be fulfilled while Indigenous Peoples’ scope for self-determination remains constrained by States’ privileged legal positions at international law coupled with their self-interest in retaining the final say in resource governance decisions – a reality recognized more clearly by Howlett and Lawrence.
While the collection purports to foreground Indigenous Peoples’ interests and perspectives, the contributor biographies fail to address the authors’ positionality, making it difficult to determine whether any of them are writing from a position of lived Indigenous experience. Explicitly addressing questions of voice and ensuring that editors and contributors situate themselves in relation to the material under discussion would strengthen a collection of this kind and make it easier for readers to assess the text’s decolonial bona fides. If future work in this vein is to be published with limited Indigenous involvement, Gregory Younging’s Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (Brush Education 2018) may offer a useful starting point for editorial decision-making on certain issues.