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Tsawwassen First Nation governance: an environmental justice case study

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This case study examines Tsawwassen First Nation’s (TFN) governance transformation over the past twenty years as a claim for environmental justice, and whether the new regime provides opportunities to achieve environmental justice. The paper presents narrative evidence from interviews, media articles and government and legal documents describing TFN’s transformation over into the first self-governing urban First Nation under a modern treaty agreement in British Columbia. Also key to this transformation was a 2004 benefits agreement with the port authority. The study contributes to a growing body of Canadian environmental justice scholarship using a framework that combines themes from existing literature with a specific definition generated from TFN interviewees. The paper finds that TFN’s new governance regime gives members and their government a better opportunity to pursue procedural justice as a proxy for environmental justice. But, in the same way that forces of economic globalization and neo-liberalism influenced TFN’s treaty agreement and port settlement deal, the powers of self-government will continue to be shaped by larger structural processes. The case study also reveals that considerations of environmental justice are necessary for achieving urban sustainability. The story highlights three elements for future sustainability efforts: transparent, accountable and democratic governance; Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal reconciliation; and a revision of how land is defined, valued and held.
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