Current Problems


Criticisms of Federal Impact Assessment Act

February 13, 2020

FACETS – “Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada: applying past lessons to the 2019 impact assessment act”. Even the most contemporary federal Environmental Assessment framework in Canada ultimately fails to ensure the engagement of the critically important knowledge of Indigenous peoples in environmental decision-making. While we identify that Impact Assessment Act fails to substantially improve the relationship between Indigenous Knowledge and Environmental Assessment (EA), it has faced severe and continuing backlash from industry proponents and many non-Indigenous Canadians for the few improvements it does make. Canadian EA thus misses opportunities to inform environmental decisions with the best available knowledge and to support Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and well-being.

We suggest widespread recognition of Indigenous-led EA as a way forward, alongside cooperative assessments designed by Crown and Indigenous authorities. Indigenous-led EA, which is fortified by millennia of experience in natural resource management and environmental decision-making practices is on-going in Canada and represents a reassertion of Indigenous management rights that may respond comprehensively to legal, historical, epistemological, and political obstacles. This process, developed specifically by and for Indigenous Nations, has the potential to improve relationships between governments, project proponents, and practitioners while upholding human rights.

Recommendations from these panels were similar to the suggestions that emerged from our literature review and called for:

  • Indigenous power in the decision-making process
  • explicit recognition of land and treaty rights
  • legally binding adherence to UNDRIP
  • increased funding programs and opportunities
  • oversight of IK by Indigenous peoples, and
  • recognition of fundamental differences in western and Indigenous Knowledge, culture, and worldview (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency 2017)

While the Impact Assessment Act does provide provisions for the protection of IK, and owing to amendments made by the House of Commons does invoke UNDRIP, many of the panels’ additional recommendations remain unaddressed. – ref23