Addressing historical impacts through impact and benefit agreements and health impact assessment: why it matters for indigenous well-being.

Author:Jones, Jen

Abstract: Environmental Assessment and related permitting processes have long struggled to identify and mitigate health and well-being impacts associated with resource development, especially in northern, largely Indigenous, jurisdictions. An opportunity to address this governance deficit has seemingly been provided through the growing use of mechanisms such as Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) and Health Impact Assessments (HIA). Their emergence has coincided with a growth in social determinants of health research that recognizes diverse concepts and complex drivers of Indigenous well-being; it is increasingly common for researchers to speak of the "good life" and to recognize health disparities that are based in experiences of poverty, stress, trauma, cultural erosion, and environmental dispossession. Unfortunately, little of this research has come to influence contemporary HIA practices and the content or implementation of IBAs. Missing from these novel governance mechanisms is recognition that present-day resource development is complicated by legacies of colonialism and assimilation policies, which impact Indigenous well-being. In short, what matters to Indigenous communities and what is captured in an IBA or HIA seldom coincide. This argument is supported by evidence of Indigenous participation in the Wishbone Hill HIA in Alaska and the IBA signed in support of the Meadowbank Mine in Nunavut. Given this evidence, this article calls for refinement of governance mechanisms such as IBAs and HIAs in order to better understand and respond to the complexities that inform Indigenous well-being.


Mineral exploration and extraction in Canada has long been recognized as a source of economic activity and opportunity, especially in northern jurisdictions. This reputation is understandable; in 2011, a recent peak year, exploration expenditures were $4.2 billion across the country, while the total production of minerals, metals, and coal was valued at $50.9 billion (Natural Resources Canada, 2014). During such times, the sector has generated substantial wealth for mining firms, governments, servicing companies, employees, and, increasingly, communities proximate to a mine site. For example, in 2007, the owners of the Raglan Mine in northern Quebec issued a payment of $16.7 million to Makivik Corporation, much of which was distributed to residents of two Inuit communities in disbursements of $15,000 per adult and $10,000 per child. This payment was made as per the requirements of the Raglan Agreement, a contract signed in 1995 by the then owners of the mine, Falconbridge, and regional Inuit organizations on whose traditional lands the mine was built.

Since the late 1980s, equivalent agreements, commonly termed Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs), have increasingly been established across Canada. (1) As used in the mining sector, IBAs are negotiated directly between mine developers and Indigenous communities with limited state interference. Their de facto purpose is to deliver enhanced impact mitigation and tangible benefits to communities in exchange for community support of a project (Galbraith, Bradshaw, & Rutherford, 2007). Routinely, these agreements provide benefits such as payments, employment, and preferential treatment of community businesses; less routinely, IBAs offer a means for would-be impacted communities to influence project design and operation. For example, as a condition of their support for Inco's Voisey's Bay nickel mine, the Labrador Inuit Association secured limits on winter shipping to and from the mine in order to protect winter ice travel by Inuit hunters.

Coincident with the emergence of IBAs, the practice of Environmental Assessment (EA) has evolved, particularly in Canada's North where the process to predict positive and negative impacts of a resource development is now increasingly entwined with land claims. One notable evolution within the practice of E A has been the emergence of Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as a means to better inform health planning and decisions related to resource development; indeed, it is increasingly common for an HIA to be a required component of a proponent's submission to an environmental assessment board (Noble & Bronson, 2006; Winkler et ah, 2013). In other instances, an HIA may be completed alongside an assessment process as has been done by the State of Alaska. While HIA is largely a voluntary and an unstandardized process, both Canada and the State of Alaska have produced guidance documents for completing an HIA in relation to a resource development. (2) In both documents, HIA is promoted as a tool to analyze how a project, such as a mine, might influence the health of local populations (State of Alaska HIA Program [SAHP], 2011; Winkler et ah, 2013).

These two novel governance mechanisms, IBAs and HIA, coupled with the growing authority of Indigenous communities as a result of court decisions like the Haida and Taku River Tlingit Supreme Court of Canada decisions of 2004, (3) completed land claims, and shifts in the regulatory obligations and societal expectations of mining firms, have gone some way to rebalance the long, unequal relationship between mining firms and Indigenous communities. At the same time, it is far from clear that the securing of financial benefits through an IBA or the use of HIA to identify and mitigate health impacts has produced net positive health outcomes for Indigenous populations located proximate to mine developments in the Circumpolar North. This concern has been increasingly expressed in scholarship focused on mining, community well-being, and the social determinants of health (SDH) (e.g., Gibson and Klinck, 2006; Parlee, O'Neil, & Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, 2007; Bhatia & Wernham, 2009; Knotsch, Siebenmorgen, & Bradshaw, 2010; Shandro, Veiga, Shoveller, Scobie, & Keohoorn, 2011). As applied in an Indigenous context, research on the SDH has illuminated how experiences with poverty, stress, trauma (both directly experienced and via intergenerational transmission), cultural erosion, and environmental dispossession contribute to health disparities experienced by Indigenous populations (Kwiatkowski, Tikhonov, Peace, & Bourassa, 2009; Richmond & Ross, 2009; Robertson, 2006). While there is not yet consensus that cultural factors are relevant to measuring and reflecting Indigenous disparities, a considerable amount of recent research indicates that more holistic models of health and attention to social inequalities created through colonialism and assimilationist policies are necessary to address health disparities that continue to be experienced by Indigenous populations (Parkes, 2011; Reading & Wien, 2013; Richmond, 2009; Sotero, 2006).

We argue herein that one key reason why IBAs and HIA have, to date, struggled to address community well-being concerns around mine development is because IBAs and HIA have insufficiently recognized and responded to the complexities that inform Indigenous understandings of and experiences with health and well-being. Situating and responding to this complexity is not an easy task for IBA negotiators and HIA professionals who are often unequipped with sufficient regional or local data. As well, assessment matrices are often linearly defined or ill-suited to capture subtleties or nuanced understandings of experiences with residential or boarding schools, or past mining developments (Jones, Nix, & Snyder, 2014). And yet, nuanced understanding of Indigenous well-being is precisely what is needed to make IBAs and HIA work. This is especially so with respect to incorporating the impacts of legacies of colonialism and assimilationist policies on present day well-being. (4)

This article aims to stimulate conversation around the use of IBAs and HIA in the management of well-being impacts associated with contemporary mine developments in northern, predominantly Indigenous jurisdictions, paying special attention to the role and impact of experiences with legacies of colonialism. We present two case studies to illustrate some of the challenges of addressing issues of community well-being and to highlight why outcomes of the legacies of colonialism require special consideration in resource assessment and governance mechanisms. The article is presented in three parts. In the next section, some background information is provided on IBAs, HIA, and notions of well-being, especially in an Indigenous context. Though not comprehensive, the reviews provide a common foundation to make sense of two case studies that follow. The first case study focuses on the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement signed in support of Nunavut's Meadowbank Mine and the second case study centres on an HIA used to assess health impacts of the Wishbone Hill Mine, a proposed coal mine in Alaska. Finally, in the last section we invite readers to draw on our case studies, and those with which they are familiar, to dialogue on the implications of legacies of colonialism for contemporary governance, and, more practically, conceive of changes to the negotiation and implementation of IBAs and conduct of HIA so that these governance mechanisms might better reflect what matters to Indigenous communities seeking to enhance their well-being.


This section provides background information on IBAs and HIA, two dominant mechanisms used in the governance of contemporary resource developments to maintain or enhance the health and well-being of northern Indigenous peoples. Following the review of IBAs and HIA, some additional background is provided on notions of well-being as predominantly understood among northern Indigenous peoples.

Impact and Benefit Agreements

Over the past two decades, Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs), and other similarly oriented though differently named agreements between would-be mine developers and Indigenous communities, (5) have become institutionalized within Canada's...

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