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An 'Effective' Involvement of Indigenous People in Environmental Impact Assessment: the cultural impact assessment of the Saru River Region, Japan

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The Cultural Impact Assessment of the Saru River Region represents the first time that a site investigation was implemented in Japan in order to preserve an ethnic culture in relation to the construction of a dam. One of the project's basic concepts was to get local residents, especially those of Ainu ethnicity, to participate in the investigation. Existing case studies of environmental impact assessment have argued that the assessment has failed to sufficiently involve Indigenous people in its process and has largely failed to incorporate Indigenous knowledge, cultural values, and voices into its processes and outcomes. Also, intangible aspects of Indigenous cultural heritage have not been protected. In the Cultural Impact Assessment of the Saru River Region, the Final Report was released in 2006 and significantly included the 3 year investigation of input by local residents. In this sense, this assessment succeeded in effectively involving Indigenous people in its process and in reflecting their cultural values in its results. The more important issue is, however, how these results were included in the final outcomes. If Indigenous people have no power over final decision making, their involvement is not effective. This paper analyses the significance and unresolved problems involved in this overall assessment process.
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Keywords: Ainu; Cultural heritage; Indigenous people; Japan; dam construction; environmental impact assessment

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Victoria, Canada

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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