Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the ways human well-being definitions and policies are being deployed in Heiltsuk Territory on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada. Achieving “increased human well-being” has been a major goal explicitly addressed in political agreements and legislation pertaining to this region, including the Coast Funds, the 2016 Amending Agreement, and the Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order. What has remained elusive, until recently, is what ‘human well-being’ means to the Indigenous communities who have called this region home for thousands of years, and how to include people’s connections to land in measuring it. Common conceptions of well-being have been criticized for being predominantly reflective of Judeo-Christian values, and remains in the purview of socio-economic scholars who regard the maximization of economic utility as the central basis of well-being. Using Indigenous literature and ethnographic data, this paper finds “Heiltsuk well-being” is best understood as rooted in a placed-based identity resisting over a century of colonial policies. Specifically, Heiltsuk place unhindered access to territory at the core of what it means to “be well as Heiltsuk.” Environmental knowledge – also referred to as “Heiltsuk knowledge” - reveals Heiltsuk territory is inextricably linked to a complex social and political system to which Heiltsuk individuals and family lineages are tied and governance and jurisdictional authority founded. Sincere efforts to “increase human well-being” require adherence to place-based notions of Indigenous rights and sovereignty.