Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Incorporating a conflict transformation lens into ethnographic research on the controversy over the Site C hydroelectric dam on northeastern BC’s Peace River revealed the cultural assumptions embedded in the environmental assessment (EA) process, and the violence inherent in it. The EA process examined the project in terms of impacts on Valued Ecosystem Components, considering cultural, spiritual, social, environmental, and economic impacts as discrete and quantifiable, while Indigenous (and other) opponents of the dam saw the river valley as a human and environmental system; they rejected mitigation measures that were designed to replicate individual ecosystem functions but missed their essence. Proponents treated Site C as a discrete project, unconnected to Indigenous grievances over existing dams on the river, whereas critics connected Site C not only to unresolved and ongoing consequences of previous dams, but also to potentially detrimental future development. Indigenous opponents of Site C saw themselves in a battle against a project that threatened their history, their future livelihoods, and their cultural existence; however, technical discourse served to depoliticize concerns about the project. Furthermore, political power, resources, and symbolic capital for participation in the EA process were weighted in favour of the proponent. The EA process operated in structurally and culturally violent ways to justify a violent project. Highlighting this violence through conflict-sensitive ethnography may be a step towards more just environmental decision-making processes.