Overview: This course explores the structures of policy and law that shape environmental governance on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and how the Indigenous communities and ecosystems of the west coast of Vancouver Island shape law and policy. The goal is to understand the complex socio-ecological and legal structures – both Nuu-chah-nulth and Canadian – that underpin the overlapping jurisdictional and governance systems in the region. The central themes that anchor this course are the geography of the west coast, ecosystem-based management, and aboriginal rights and title. The magic of this course is that it exposes students to socio-ecological governance issues within the unique and vibrant Nuu-chah-nulth traditional territory where outsiders can see how Indigenous law directs environmental management. From a colonial legal perspective, Meares Island in the region was one of the sites of the start of the “war in the woods” in the 1980’s, and the world class Pacific Rim National Park Reserve includes interesting marine and terrestrial governance components. The region continues to provide leading legal challenges and solutions in Canada, which gives us the opportunity to work with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations who are signatories to the Maa-nulth Treaty, one of the few modern treaties in Canada.
We approach these fascinating structures of Indigenous and Canadian policy and law through the topics of (1) aboriginal rights and title, (2) science in law, (3) land use and marine planning, and (4) the impact of energy systems on remote communities. Each topic includes at least six class hours divided equally into an overview lecture that sets the stage, interaction with guest speakers (either in class or out in Huu-ay-aht territory on the land or ocean), and a student-facilitated activity. In addition, we will meet with staff and leadership from Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nations to learn about specific initiatives they are working on, and explore environmental governance strategies in both modern treaty and aboriginal rights contexts. Students will have the opportunity to develop collaboration and teamwork skills through a team project. Each student’s final project will be in support of research defined by staff of First Nations so that the primary output of the course will support Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nations with their environmental priorities.
Special Notes: First, for students not in law. I promise that the law students will not bite. The structure of the course relies equally on environmental studies (including ecology) and law/policy backgrounds. Both perspectives and skills are necessary for solving environmental governance challenges. I taught a similar course in the central coast at the Hakai Institute for five years and the interdisciplinary class collaboration was a success.
Regarding the readings and final projects – this course is short, only two weeks in length. Students must have completed the readings before they arrive for the course so that they have a good understanding of the Huu-ay-aht territorial context in which we are studying because we start the course with several activities and guest lectures from community members. In addition, although there is time for students to work on their final projects during the course, students typically complete their final projects after the course has finished.
Research Skills: Students will improve their social science research, policy analysis, legal research and writing skills through two written submissions on the course readings, a team project, and a final project. Students will also improve their teamwork and facilitation skills by working with colleagues in the course to facilitate a course session, and take responsibility for community guests from First Nations, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BC Parks, and community organizations. Note that students not in law are not expected to read or write legal analysis, however the interaction with legal principles will assist them to understand environmental governance structures in Canada.
Practical Skills: Students will complete a final project for a Nuu-Chah Nulth First Nation in the region in support of their environmental projects.
Boat Use: There will be no opportunity for students to drive boats during Environmental Law and Sustainability. Boat driving is not recommended for this course. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and must participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.
Prerequisite: Upper year environmental policy course, environmental law, or by permission of the instructor.
Physical Requirements: None. However, students should be aware that there is no accommodation available for physical accessibility at BMSC. There are gravel paths and steep slopes joining the classrooms and residents at BMSC. We will be visiting several sites of Indigenous law, however no particular physical fitness is required.
Required Text: Materials will be available for students electronically.
A Final Note About Field Courses: For those of you who have never taken a field course before I offer a few observations here. Field courses are deeply rewarding because we are living our educational experience, which offers so much additional value over classroom learning (please contact me if you would like some references to articles on field- and place-based learning). This course is particularly unique because we rarely have the opportunity to explore “environment” outside of the science context and in an interdisciplinary setting, which is what is required for us to solve complex socio-ecological problems. At the same time, field courses are intense. We are together as a class much of the day, and then you have to make time to complete your assignments on top of those classroom hours. While I structure this field course with more flexibility in the schedule than most science field courses, including a day without class time, some students find the two weeks to be particularly tiring due to the level of togetherness.