The Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan significantly rely on oil pipelines’ revenue, dependent on the transport of their energy resources by pipeline to the eastern and western seaboards, and south into the United States. Pipeline infrastructure reshapes the landscape and impacts sustainability of the environment, traditional Indigenous livelihoods, and drinking water, when spills and leaks occur. The purpose of this paper is to provide Indigenous communities, particularly those communities of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, with new tools that can help them make strategic choices about pipeline leak management to enhance their energy justice to pipeline leaks.
Indigenous knowledge has important lineages in energy sustainability, as it includes culturally distinctive ways of knowing specifics to societies, with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. For Indigenous people, the term sustainability is part of their everyday life, which connects spiritually and relationally; acting sustainably means giving, not taking the Earth’s natural resources and is defined by an ethic of making decisions in respect of Earth’s resources that will not hamper the access to these resources for the next seven generations [1
]. Indigenous knowledge includes traditional ways of knowing and doing in sustainably managing very complex ecosystems [2
]. In the dramatic transition of energy and water management regimes over the last few decades, Indigenous knowledge has received little recognition, and Indigenous histories and perspectives are rarely valued as significant data to the sustainable contemporary management of water and energy resources [3
For understanding the concept of sustainability in energy and drinking water access for Indigenous people, this paper reports on a scoping review of critical issues in sustainability, particularly energy pipelines and their impact on Indigenous peoples’ drinking water access. For instance, how is the concept of Indigenous sustainability and Indigenous energy justice affected through colonial energy management policy and practices? This paper reports on a scoping review of energy issues surrounding pipeline spills/leaks, and impacts on drinking water and Indigenous communities in Western Canada. This paper first suggests that the researchers need to explore past leak impacts on Indigenous communities’ water, agriculture, and challenges in current risk management processes and regulations; and secondly, provide recommendations to build sustainability in Indigenous energy practice from and within Indigenous people and their perspectives.
5. Discussion and Recommendations
Our scoping review suggests there is a significant need for more academic and community-based research with Indigenous communities to understand sustainability issues from and within Indigenous perspectives. Indigenous knowledge needs to be understood through their participation and decision-making in energy management and drinking water pipeline leaks management and in identifying solutions. For understanding sustainability surrounding Indigenous energy and water, this review also suggests for the researcher’s critical focus to be on barriers and challenges in Indigenous communities (i.e., sufficient research funding to the community, Indigenous-led research, protecting drinking water, and their health). Although the number of related studies was very small in this scoping review, the studies reported reflect a wider range of research designs and findings by the Indigenous community.
Pipeline leak impacts on drinking water systems creates significant challenges in Indigenous sustainability. For instance, while some research is emerging, there is very limited research on Indigenous communities’ perspectives and Indigenous knowledge on current pipeline development, and drinking water management. For understanding sustainability issues, this study suggests focusing on the redesign of research, and research within and from Indigenous community participants and academic researchers. The lack of cultural understanding among government and NGO researchers is also another significant challenge in Indigenous sustainability research [9
] as well as improvement in increasing Indigenous communities’ active participation. Studies also recommend greater sample sizes from the community perspectives so that both academics and communities can better understand challenges from multiple perspectives. There is a need for Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous methodology, Indigenous research frameworks, from and within Indigenous community-based participatory research, that also can lead to community-based effective solutions. More research is also needed to understand government and non-governmental initiatives and their impact on Indigenous communities’ involvement in their energy management and sustainability [31
For understanding sustainability issues, it is recommended that the significant gaps in the evidence of drinking water consequences related to pipeline leaks in Canadian Indigenous com-munities be addressed [31
]. There are no systematic studies that focus on Indigenous rights, including access to drinking water and surrounding the health of women and minors in Indigenous communities.
To move forward in better understanding sustainability through potential protection of Indigenous drinking water, their health, and their environment from pipeline spills in Canada, we make the following recommendations for understanding sustainability issues based on the scoping review:
Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR). Studies suggested that Indigenous-led CBPAR can provide a better understanding from and within community perspectives on the oil spills, affecting assessment and protecting their drinking water and environment. Although there are significant needs for bridging among academic researchers, policy makers, community leaders, Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, government and companies; studies specifically suggested for centering Indigenous perspectives for building sustainability within and from Indigenous communities.
Develop an Indigenous-Led Database. Studies argued that Indigenous communities, in most cases, do not have access to government and companies’ research information. Therefore, they do not know the impacts on their water, health, and environment. According to studies, the Indigenous-led database cannot only improve information access, but also can be helpful for government and companies to take meaningful, timely action from and within community people. Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and leaders can guide to develop Indigenous-led databases.
Indigenous Perspectives. For building sustainability in Indigenous communities, Indigenous perspectives are critical. Studies suggested developing Indigenous perspectives on concepts (i.e., energy, energy management, safe drinking water, and health risk) through Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers’ guidelines.
Funding. Funding is one of the critical issues for building sustainability in oil spills management. Most communities suffer for lack of funding during and after oil spills. Therefore, studies strongly suggested federal and provincial governments, research agencies, and companies create a special call for Indigenous CBPAR research, interdisciplinary research, actions-based solutions, and maintain a workforce during and after any oil spills. Ongoing pre-oil spills funding is also needed for educating the community.
Develop Indigenous-Led Programs. Indigenous-led programs from and within Indigenous communities are significant for building sustainability for Indigenous communities. These programs are to monitor impacts and assessments, and report the pipeline leaks and drinking water outcomes to implement strategies for finding effective solutions in removing barriers and challenges to safe drinking water, Indigenous health, and their environment.
Sustainability in energy justice requires responsible energy development in Indigenous communities. This scoping review paper suggests that when energy is developed in Indigenous communities, there is a need to consider Indigenous peoples’ interests regarding the opportunities and impacts of energy development. Our study found that energy development without Indigenous community engagement has been creating not only serious negative impacts on the environment, but also creating significant barriers for Indigenous everyday practices, including impacts on Indigenous water, agricultural land, traditional hunting and gathering practices, and ceremonies. Therefore, in reviewing recent research on Indigenous communities, this study suggests that following the above recommendations are significant for building energy sustainability in Indigenous land. To achieve this, we strive for relationships that are based on transparency, mutual respect and trust.