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On the Emerging Nature and Logic of Indigenous Well-Being: A Heiltsuk Perspective

Authors: Maggie Low*, The University of British Columbia
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology, Canada
Keywords: Indigenous, human well-being, Indigenous rights, Great Bear Rainforest, Canada
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


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 remain in the purview of socio-economic scholars who regard the maximization of economic utility as the central basis of well-being. Using Indigenous well-being literature and ethnographic data collected over two years, this paper finds “Heiltsuk well-being” is best understood as rooted in a placed-based identity resisting over a century of colonial policies. Specifically, “unhindered access to territory” is central to what it means to be well as a Heiltsuk person. Further, 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 is founded. As such, sincere efforts to “increase human well-being” require adherence to place-based notions of Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

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