Moving to love-based practices in land use planning with Ethical Space

March 14, 2023

By Moe Nadeau (she/her)


This blog is written by Moe Nadeau (she/her), a previous Resource and Environmental Management master’s student and a participant in CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Funding Program. It is a reflection on key learnings gained through her master’s degree studying Ethical Space in land use planning.

In 2019, British Columbia (BC) adopted Bill 41: The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). DRIPA committed BC to developing a new planning framework, modernized land use planning (MLUP) that involves ethical collaboration with Indigenous Peoples.

At the time, I was working as a Lands Authorizations Specialist in the Sea to Sky region with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. I was told DRIPA would upheave our framework for conducting land use decisions. This was a good and much needed sign.

I had been struggling in my role. There were many unanswered questions surrounding Indigenous governments and their decision-making authority. As our team learned more about the legal ramifications of DRIPA, I began to fixate solely on the small steps being made. Wasn’t DRIPA supposed to be different? I felt a pull to further investigate a way to meaningfully express the importance of shared decision-making that balanced power dynamics between Indigenous and colonial governments using methods that could be adopted on the ground.

After numerous conversations with BC staff members, and moments questioning if change would ever come, I stumbled across Ethical Space and a woman named Gwen Bridge. I poured over as much information on Ethical Space as I could until I was hooked. This framework answered the questions I had been looking for. I emailed Gwen Bridge, told her how impressed I was, and we scheduled a time to meet in a café on Baker Street in Nelson. After a two-hour meeting, I was fueled and sure of this work. Nothing could sway my need to deeply understand Ethical Space. Andréanne Doyon, my supervisor, was incredibly supportive of my journey. She guided me through numerous literature review and research project re-writes as I questioned and re-questioned my work in this space.

My research focused on two goals:

  1. To investigate how an Ethical Space framework could be adopted in land use planning; and
  2. To offer an exploratory application of Ethical Space for land use planning in the Upper Columbia region of present-day BC.

Below, I share some key take aways learned through this process. My thesis and research brief provide additional food for thought in advancing land use planning and planning theory through Ethical Space.

What is Ethical Space?

Willie Ermine, a member of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, developed Ethical Space. Ethical Space is a conceptual approach used to balance power dynamics and meaningfully develop relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Through my research, I defined Ethical Space in the following ways:

  1. Co-Creating New Procedures Using Existing Systems: Ethical Space does not attempt to make people change their systems of understanding. All beliefs are used to jointly create a new method for decision-making.
  2. Building Meaningful Relationships: Ethical Space is not intended to fulfil consultation or legal obligations. It can only be established when participants are committed to building meaningful relationships.
  3. No One Size Fits All Approach: Ethical Space will look different depending on the participants, topic, location, and decisions made. There is no step-by-step guide for enacting Ethical Space.



Key Requirements to Enact and Maintain Ethical Space

I found three key requirements to enact and maintain Ethical Space:

  1. Pre-Engagement
    Pre-engagement is the work done before entering the space. It includes understanding your personal and professional ethics and responsibilities, and conducting research to understand the additional participants at the table.
  2. Relational Accountability
    Relational accountability is about developing meaningful relationships to establish trust and feel responsible for upholding your duties to others in Ethical Space. Ethical Space is an ongoing process that requires continued dialogue and engagement.
  3. Reflexivity
    Reflexivity allows parties to check in with one another and ask what is working and what isn’t. With reflection, parties can adapt to ensure the work is serving everyone.


Final Reflection

Planners play a pivotal role in addressing ethical issues across the world. The practice of planning is rooted in creating a better, more sustainable world for everyone. Ethical Space is an emerging concept that promotes relationship building and balancing power dynamics to establish an innovative space for decision-making. It recognizes fundamental differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous authoritative structures, to present a new way forward for land use planning in BC.

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