I mentioned, just the other day, that there is plenty of good, hard science that warns us about the consequences of e.g. polluting our soil and water and our air and, indeed, the whole atmosphere. It has always seemed pretty clear to me that we should always listen to scientists … wait for some sort of consensus and then take some appropriate actions to try to mitigate the consequences of our other, earlier actions when that’s necessary.
That seems to have been clear to Quebec’s deputy environment minister (a very senior and well qualified civil servant) Patrick Beauchesne who, according to an article in the National Post, is in hot water because of a letter he wrote to his federal confrère in which he asked for some clarification about the inevitable collision of hard science and “traditional Indigenous knowledge” which forthcoming federal legislation will require to be considered in environmental reviews.
The First Nations and some of the progressive intelligentsia are up in arms. It’s an “attempt to favour science in a “hierarchy of knowledges” … [and it] … reflects a “racism of intelligence”, some said. It’s now racist to be scientific?
I agree, more or less, with this …
… there’s another version with some philosophers at the right end, beyond the mathematicians, saying “Shall we tell them?” I put “traditional Indigenous knowledge” believers and advocates somewhere to the left of the sociologists. I accept that First Nations have traditional beliefs and, of course, they are welcome to hold them and to try to propagate them, but I’m less happy with the suggestion that a belief or a legend is, somehow, “knowledge” that can or should stand alongside say chemistry and physics when assessing the possible costs and benefits of, just for example, a pipeline.
I am happy to hear environmental scientists and engineers warn about the risk of pipelines breaks and spills and so on … we need to hear that, we need to understand that there are real risks and there are serious consequences when, not if, something goes wrong. Only fools and some political activists think Murphy was a pessimist. But I am also interested in hearing about risk reduction techniques and remedial actions and the risks and costs of doing without something … like a pipeline or a new road or a dam. Equally, I am interested in hearing about alternative uses for land and water: about its value for hunting and fishing and for tourism and for preserving habitat for other species … that’s real science, when it’s based on facts.
I affirm that we, the generations who have settled here since about the 16th century, have mistreated the indigenous peoples; we have ignored our treaty obligations, we have lied, we have cheated we have done worse … that’s all true. But redress for those very real grievances must be based on some sensible combination of facts, horrible as many of them are, and practical steps to remediate a dreadful situation. The facts on the ground are clear enough and some of the solutions are obvious … First Nations don’t need to try to use myths and legends to strengthen a legal hand that is, already, powerful or to try to extort money from governments and corporations … they, the First Nations, need, first and foremost, to articulate the range of solutions that they think will be acceptable to most indigenous people and practical, even though expensive, for Canada … maybe that’s (a) land base(s), maybe it’s (a) new order(s) of government, maybe it’s financial support for a generation or two, maybe it’s a lot of things … what the solution is not is something grounded in hastily (and conveniently) created “traditional Indigenous knowledge.“
Politicians, including First Nations politicians, are dabbling in fiction, shysterism and huxtering as they manoeuvre for political and economic advantage … it is unseemly and, I believe, unnecessary and I think it might even be counter-productive. But it seems to appeal to a certain segment of society that worships at the altar of the flavour of the month and this month “traditional Indigenous knowledge” is that flavour … for a while.