Conceptualizing natural resource and environmental management as deliberative democratic practice: land use planning on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, 2000-2013
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This research was motivated by the observed need for natural resource and environmental management (NREM) that, contrary to much of our experience, can reliably serve as democratically legitimate governance directing us towards outcomes that are socially, economically, and ecologically just – i.e. that are sustainable. NREM has become increasingly participatory and deliberative, which is argued to facilitate learning and lead to improved outcomes, and I sought to ground these approaches within a model of democracy. Based on an exploration of literature on deliberative democracy, particularly that of Jurgen Habermas, participatory NREM, and green political theory, I developed a conceptual framework for deliberative democratic NREM. Following this theoretical work, I conducted a case study of two successive NREM processes on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba – the East Side Planning Initiative that ran from 2000-2004, and the Wabanong Nakaygum Okimawin that succeeded it from 2004-2013. Using document reviews and interviews with participants, these processes were described and discussion was structured around four themes. Three represented the primary dimensions of my conceptual framework – NREM internal discourse and organization, relations with political-administrative systems, and relations with public discourses – and the fourth related to Indigenous self-government and title to traditional territories, which emerged strongly in the research. This analysis was then used to refine my conceptual framework. Three key conclusions were drawn from the research. First, that the nature and means of political systems’ steering of NREM processes needs to be made explicit as part of their basic description. This enables potential participants to make informed choices, facilitates accountability and public oversight, and encourages governments to minimize political interference. Second, NREM processes should be mandated to actively provide accessible feedback from their internal deliberations to public discourses. This supports sound learning within society and strengthens democratic capacity. And finally, in the interests of justice and reconciliation, NREM addressed to Indigenous communities and traditional territories ought to recognize their right to self-government, engage Indigenous governments alongside provincial and federal ones, and, in the absence of self-government or land claims agreements, acknowledge jurisdiction over traditional territories as shared or at the least as contested.