Nitassinan: Reclaiming Innu land

Sam and Manianeshe Pijogge with caribou en route from Pants Lake to Misteshuapi, 2009. Photo by Colin Samson

The homeland of the indigenous Innu, Nitassinan, ‘our land’, is a boreal landscape of spruce, fir, rock, lakes and rivers stretched across the Labrador-Quebec peninsula. Innu hunting families occupied and maintained this landscape for close to 8,000 years before being forced into village settlements by the Canadian government during the mid-20th century.

Since then, the Innu, along with other indigenous groups, have been engaged in a protracted battle with the Canadian government in a bid to claim their rights to their land.  In order to do this, they must participate in Comprehensive Land Claims, a legal and bureaucratic process described as ‘Kafkaesque‘: the process demands that the Innu must forfeit most of their lands and their aboriginal rights in exchange for minute amounts of the proceeds from extractive industries encamped on their lands and a small measure of self-government.

This is contrary to numerous UN standards, specific UN reports to Canada and the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The plight of the Innu and their struggles against extinguishment have been extensively chronicled by Colin Samson, a member of the Ecocultures consortium, who has worked the community for over 20 years. His book A Way of Life that Does Not Exist: Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu extensively chronicles the effects of the forced assimilation of the Innu into the present-day Canadian state, and his more recent book A World You Do Not Know: Indigenous Peoples, Settler Societies and the Attack on Cultural Diversity looks at the edifice of ideas that make indigenous dispossession possible. Attached to this post is an article by Samson and Elizabeth Cassell published in The International Journal of Human Rights, describing the Canadian land claims negotiation strategies as human rights violations.

A hydroelectric dam will be constructed at Muskrat Falls despite protests from environmentalists and Innu leaders. Dam construction is reportedly causing landslides, with stands of spruce trees on sandy soil falling into the river. This causes deoxygenation of the water and the death of fish. Photo by Colin Samson.

Survival International has begun a campaign, asking people to write letters to the Canadian government demanding changes to the land claims process.

Please take a moment to click through, sign and post this.

To read more about the places and lifeways of the Innu, please click here.

Muskrat Falls, July 2013. Construction work on the dam proceeds before the final agreement to legitimate it. Photography is banned at the site. Photo by Anthony Jenkinson

To read more about Colin Samson’s work with the Innu, including a list of his publications on the subject, please click here.


Download Frontier-Justice-Samson-and-Cassell.pdf

Just published – Ecocultures: Blueprints for Sustainable Communities

Blueprints for Sustainable Communities

We’re excited to announce the publication of our first edited volume, collecting case studies and analysis on established and emerging Ecocultures from around the world.

The volume details how communities are taking action to maintain or build resilient and sustainable lifestyles. Chapters include case studies from Australia, Brazil, Finland, Greenland, India, Indonesia, South Africa, the UK and the USA.

To read the first chapter, please click here.

Please click here to purchase the book.

Please also join us on social media. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts contain regular updates on the case studies in the book and on Ecocultures worldwide.

Seminar: Separating Indigenous Peoples From Their Lands: The Ethnocidal Effects of Recent Canadian Land Claims Agreements


The Essex Sustainability Institute’s Seminar Series,Sustainability Contested, continues in 2013 at the Wivenhoe Park campus. The seminars are open to staff, students and members of the public. All are welcome, and attendance is free! Please spread the word!


Our next seminar is on the 23rd of January 2013, at 16:00 in Room 5N.7.23. Please note that the event will be free but prior registration is required. To register, please click here.

Separating Indigenous Peoples From Their Lands: The Ethnocidal Effects of Recent Canadian Land Claims Agreements 

This presentation examines Canadian land claims policy and interprets it as a means to diminish the cultural distinctiveness and social cohesion of Aboriginal peoples by requiring that they release most of their land to Canada and participate in resource extraction joint ventures. The recent Innu Nation land claims agreement called Tshash Petapen (‘New Dawn’)  will be analyzed in terms of (1) the social and political conditions in which the Innu negotiate, especially high rates of social dysfunction, alcoholism, and substance abuse (2) the provisos in agreements aimed at cultivating acquisitive individualism within a neoliberal economic framework, (3) the effects on Aboriginal social cohesion and relationships to the land, and (4) the legal result of such agreements, which is to extinguish indigenous ownership of lands and abolish any claims Aboriginal peoples can make against Canada for the violation of their rights.

Professor Colin Samson is a member of International Fact Finding Mission on land rights of Innu of Matimekush, Quebec, a delegate to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations for the Innu Council of Nitassinan, Geneva, 19-23 July 2004 and a founding member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples, an organization seeking to link hunting and pastoralist peoples, Arusha, Tanzania. He is also the author of A Way of Life That Does Not Exist: Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu.

If you would like to meet the speaker on the day, please email Bryony Pound, at balpou (at) 


Food in Transition: Call for Workshop Participants


A collaborative workshop of the Transition Research Network, Essex Sustainability Institute, Participatory and Rural Geographies Research Groups.

University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, Essex 

Wed 6th Feb 2013, 12 noon – 6pm (followed by dinner) 

Are you:

  • Working or seeking to work, on local food initiatives where you live?
  • A grower or producer who supplies, or would like to supply locally, and support the work of community food initiatives?
  • Involved in academic research on local food systems, and seeking to maximise its practical value by collaborating directly with community groups, growers and producers?

If so, please join us and help develop a new agenda for local food practice, research and policy. We will use inclusive facilitation techniques to ensure the meeting is dynamic and makes the most of what all participants have to offer. The event is open to everyone interested in contributing to this theme. Attendance is free but by registration only. Travel and accommodation support is are available and will be allocated based on income and a simple email application.

Please spread the word, and feel free to circulate the attached flier.

For registration and bursary applications: Send an email to Prof. Steffen Boehm (steffen at by 21st December 2012 with:

  • Your name and location
  • The name of the initiative you wish to represent (where relevant)
  • A few lines to tell us about your key relevant experience and why you wish to attend
  • An indication of whether you would like to apply for a travel bursary to enable you to attend.

We will then get back to you with a link to our registration page. The deadline for registration is 14th January 2012. 

The Transition Research Network is a self-organising group of academics and community activists. See:

Download Call-for-participants-Food-in-Transition2.pdf

Local Food and Well-being: Our questionnaire is now online!

Photo: Jules Pretty

We’ve begun data collection on our Local Food and Well-being project!  We are looking for people from Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk to spend a few minutes filling in the questions here:

We’re doing the first major study on the links between local food and well-being and we would really like to hear from you if you live in Essex, Norfolk or Suffolk. The study will help us to contribute to local initiatives in health, well-being and sustainable living. We’re excited to be able to base it within our local area and are keen to base our findings on a wide range of opinions.

Filling in the survey should take less than 15 minutes of your time. Please also feel free to circulate this survey to friends and family who live in these counties. It’s really important that we have as many responses as possible!

If you would like more information about the research, please contact Dr. Zareen Bharucha (zpbhar at We’ll also post regular updates here as data starts to come in.

Seminar: Corporate Environmental Reporting

The Essex Sustainability Institute  is hosting  a new seminar series, Sustainability Contested, at the Wivenhoe Park campus. The seminars are open to staff, students and members of the public.

All are welcome, and attendance is free! Please spread the word! If you would like to meet the speakers on the day, please email Zareen Bharucha, at zpbhar (at) More on the first seminar below.

Title: Corporate Environmental Reporting: What We Know, What We Don’t Know and What We Want to Know

6th of November 2012, Room 5N.3.2, 12:30 – 14:00 (bring your lunch) 

Abstract: Contrary to what many perceive, corporate environmental reporting is not a new phenomenon and has permeated the consciousness of accounting research as far back as 1977. The fact that it has remained a much-discussed issue spanning over three decades illustrates the importance of appropriately communicating sustainability and environmental information to stakeholders. Once seen as part of a broader corporate social reporting / CSR reporting agenda, environmental and sustainability reporting has emerged as an area of inquiry in its own right. The nature of the work over the past three decades highlights the interdisciplinary nature of this work, encompassing areas such as environmental science, economics, financial reporting, law, management, sociology and even linguistics. This research looks at the development of research in corporate environmental and sustainability reporting over the years, exploring theoretical nuances and arguments inherent in prior work. It concludes by exploring potential avenues for future interdisciplinary research in the area.

Idlan Zakaria joined the Essex Business School in 2006, obtaining both her Masters and PhD in Accounting and Finance at Lancaster University. She teachesfinancial reporting and corporate governance, and her research interests are in comparative corporate governance and voluntary disclosure in financial reporting. She has been published in the British Accounting Review and in the past has reviewed for publications such as the Journal of Business Finance and Accounting, the Journal of Islamic Accounting and Business Research and the Journal of Accounting and Emerging Economies.


Essex Sustainability Institute Seminars: Autumn 2012 Schedule

We’re excited to be able to share the final seminar programme for the Essex Sustainability Institute seminars scheduled for Autumn 2012. The seminars are free to attend, and are open to staff and students at the University of Essex as well as members of the public from outside the University.  Just turn up! If you would like to meet with the speakers, please contact Zareen Bharucha at zpbhar at Attached to this post is a flier you can download and print if you would like!  A guide to campus room numbering can be found here.

26th October 2012 / 12:30 – 14:00 / Room 5S.4.11: Sarah White, University of Bath: Wellbeing and Poverty in Marginalised Communities: Zambia and India Compared. 

6th November 2012 / 12:30 – 14:00 / Room 5N.3.2: Idlan Zakaria, University of Essex: Corporate Environmental Reporting: What We Know, What We Don’t Know and What We Want to Know

13th November2012 / 12:30 – 14:00 / Room 5N.3.2: John Burton, World Land Trust: The World Land Trust: International conservation and the human element.

19th November 2012 / 13:30 – 17:00 / Room 5N.3.2: Joint seminar with the Essex Business School: Corporate approaches to sustainability and responsibility: Cases, Challenges, Contradictions

 29th November 2012 / 12:30 – 14:00 / Room TC2.10: Alison Acton, (alum, University of Essex): The Lies of the Land? Foxhunting, Landscape Policy and the Cultural Appropriation of Space

4th December 2012 / 12:30 – 14:00 / Room 5N.3.2: Antonio Ioris (University of Edinburgh) with Rafael Kruter Flores (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul): Neoliberalism, Socionature and WaMain Programme – Autumn 2012ter Problems: The Multiple Scarcities of Lima, Peru




Sustainable aviation workshop: University of Essex, 14th Sept. 2012

ESRC Sustainable Aviation workshop ProgrammeThe ESRC Sustainable Aviation Workshop is hosting its final event of a seminar series on the politics and policy of sustainable aviation.

Attached to this post is a programme for the day. The event will be attended by key campaigners in the debate about Heathrow and Stansted, including John Stewart and Brian Ross, who will give their thoughts on the latest developments. The workshop will also address plans for future research projects on questions of “sustainable aviation” in the UK.

The workshop starts at 9.15am and finishes at approximately 4/4.30pm and is taking place in room 5A.303.  This room is reached via Square 2, entrance 2NE and then either taking the stairs or lift up to floor 5A.
All participants will be provided with a claim form on the day which they can use to claim back the cost of travel to the university.  Please keep your receipts. The event is free to attend, but you will need to register your interest in attending with Sian Savage (ssavage at 

Download ESRC-Sustainable-Aviation-workshop-Programme1.docx

We’ve begun! Our new research project will explore the links between local food and wellbeing in the East of England (Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk).  Regular updates here.

‘Wellbeing’ is currently a fashionable concept. Just out this week, the Office of National Statistics have released a number of publications on the measurement of national wellbeing, which includes interactive tools for local mapping of wellbeing. These map counties and local authorities in terms of scores along four dimensions: respondents ‘life satisfaction’, ‘worthwhileness’, ‘happiness’ and ‘anxiety’. All four dimensions were measured on a 10-point scale; key findings are listed here and results are here.

Maps show that Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex score in-line with or above UK-wide percentages of respondents reporting medium or high life satisfaction; all three counties have a higher percentage of respondents reporting feelings of happiness than the UK-wide figure. Finally, compared with national averages, Suffolk and Essex had a lower percentage of people reporting having felt ‘high or very high anxiety yesterday’ than the UK-wide percentage, but Norfolk was higher.


Eradicating Ecocide: A Critical Appraisal

Coal Mine in South Kalimantan; Coordinates: South 03' 09" East 115' 18".

{Photo source}


The following evaluation of the Ecocide proposals is by Dr. Karen Hulme, senior lecturer at the School of Law, University of Essex and author of War Torn Environment: Interpreting the Legal Threshold, Martinus Nijhoff, 2004.


This post will provide a critical appraisal of the concept of ecocide under international law.

International environmental law is largely governed by Principle 21 of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, which states that:

“States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”

Principle 21 thus implies that states are sovereign over their own natural resources and are allowed to exploit those resources provided that in doing so they do not cause significant damage to other states or the ‘global commons’. Clearly, this basic principle does little by way of preventing damage within a state and has therefore been supplemented by a tranche of treaties which require states to protect the environment within their borders.These include the 1992 Biological Diversity Convention, the 1971 Wetlands Convention and the 1972 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Convention, as well as others that have a broader, more global reach yet still require domestic implementation, such as the 1992 Climate Change Convention, the 1973 Convention on Trade in Endangered Species and the 1946 Whaling Convention regime.

These treaties and regimes notwithstanding, global environmental degradation continues apace. As a response, Polly Higgins defined a notion of ‘ecocide’ in 2010.For the purposes of international law, Polly defines Ecocide as:

“the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

Polly’s campaigning on this notion has brought to the world’s attention such environmental tragedies as the oil extraction from the Canadian Athabasca tar sands. The US Senate recently voted to reject the Keystone XL pipeline which is proposed to transport the oil extracted from the Canadian tar sands to Texas, although with weighty Republican political backing the issue will undoubtedly return to the Senate in the near future. Other possible examples of ecocide include the BP oil spill in the Mexican Gulf in 2010, Chevron’s oil devastation in Ecuador, Shell’s destruction of the Niger Delta as well as far too many examples from around the globe of environmentally-destructive mining, deforestation and damming projects. With the Rio+20 conference almost in our midst can a crime of ecocide finally be realized?

The above definition of ecocide poses a variety of problems. First, it is clear that any  international instrument, including the proposed notion of ecocide requires state consent – and clearly it is those recalcitrant states that are causing environmental damage that are least likely to ratify such a treaty. Second, with regard to proposals within the ecocide bill of ‘non-human’ (or natural) causes of harm or those that cannot be proven to have emanated from a particular state, these are, it has to be said, unlikely to be adopted in any international instrument, let alone one mandating criminal sanctions. The remainder of the definition would probably not cause too many problems for acceptance although ‘peaceful enjoyment’ is not a particularly concrete notion. Lastly, the notion of a state ‘crime’ that is likely to result from the application of the above definition is similarly vague. It must be remembered that in the 2001 Articles of State Responsibility the notion of state ‘crimes’ was rejected[i] In an early ILC draft (1996) of the Articles on State Responsibility, Article 19(3)(d) suggested that an international crime may result from “a serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the safeguarding and preservation of the human environment, such as those prohibiting massive pollution of the atmosphere or of the seas.” This formulation of a ‘crime’ gained some acceptance and was undoubtedly a response to the heightened sense of environmental awareness during the early 1990s. Yet, its ultimate demise as well as the rejection of the 1994 Draft Principles of UN Special Rapporteur Ksentini on the right to a healthy environment reflect, lamentably, a more limited, conservative approach by states to how we value the environment and protect it from harm. Prior experience also suggests that political will is not likely to favour such mechanisms. For example, acceptance of the 1998 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law has been extremely poor (3 state ratifications to date).

This is not to say that the notion of environmental protection is unlikely to be adequately enshrined in state policy. Many states do positively promote and protect the environment. Many NGOs are now well able to promote the environment in all spheres of human development and protection, and greater use of litigation against companies in states where they are headquartered is proving to be invaluable. Furthermore, the right to a healthy environment has become acceptable to over 100 states who, having enshrined such a human right in their constitution, provide an encouraging measure of environmental protection.

With regard to strengthening the legal provisions for international environmental protection, an avenue for the notion of ecocide may thus lie in either the soft law instrument which will inevitably emerge from Rio+20 or in an international instrument providing a new way for states to hold companies (and their CEOs) criminally liable for environmental damage (many states provide for such liability already).

So much for peacetime mechanisms for international environmental protection. Peacetime legal obligations  are generally much weaker  during situations of armed conflict, when the laws of armed conflict are generally said to represent ‘lex specialis’ or ‘special/temporal law’ which is viewed as displacing or redefining peacetime obligations. Higgins, however, uses a number of wartime protections as evidence or legal authority to bolster the acceptability  of the ecocide notion in peacetime . The following sections will thus indicate why these wartime provisions do not provide the measure of support suggested by Higgins for a broad-base of acceptance of the notion of ecocide in peacetime.

The notion of ecocide became an emotive term coined in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and referred to the damage caused by the American environmentally-destructive tactics of herbicidal defoliation and the use of Rome Ploughs. It was enshrined as a crime in the domestic laws of many Communist states (Russia, Vietnam, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia etc), usually in the form that “destroying the natural environment, whether committed in time of peace or war, constitutes a crime against humanity” (Vietnam) or “massive destruction of the fauna and flora, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, as well as other acts capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, constitutes a crime against the peace and security of mankind” (Russia).

The wartime prohibition on environmental destruction was specifically included in the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions at Article 35(3), although it has to be said that it was drafted in such as way as to provide very little, if any, protection whatsoever for the environment. Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol stipulates:

“It is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

On this occasion the term ‘long-term’ was defined to mean ‘decades, 20 or 30 years as being a minimum’. Despite the phenomenal shift witnessed in peacetime environmental policy since the 1970s, a similar ‘greening’ of wartime provisions has been largely absent. Thus it was a deliberate action by dominant states at the negotiating conference to create only weak environmental protection obligations in wartime, and this attitude has continued to dominate discussions since. To exemplify this conclusion, it is often recalled by states that the oil-well destruction during the 1991 Persian Gulf Conflict would not fulfill the threshold of damage; some even doubt its applicability at all for conventional warfare (i.e., outside the use of chemical, nuclear and biological warfare – note that chemical and biological weapons are absolutely and comprehensively prohibited and the environmental prohibition itself probably does not apply to nuclear weapons anyway). Thus, it is often stated that this particular provision provides little, if any, actual environmental protection during armed conflict.

The 1976 ENMOD Convention prohibits the hostile manipulation of the environment so as to cause damage to an enemy state. The full provision is thus,

“Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.” (Article I(1), ENMOD Convention)

However, inherent in the Convention’s prohibition are its limitations. The Convention is about artificial rain-making, which is used as a wartime tactic to flood enemy supply routes, or the use of a nuclear device to trigger an earthquake or a hole in the Ozone layer above the enemy to ‘burn’ enemy troops. While cloud-seeding has been used in peacetime (note the use in the Beijing Olympics to move clouds away from the stadium), its military use was easily prohibited in the aftermath of the Vietnam War (note the US cloud-seeding tactics). Furthermore, it is unclear how Higgins is using the ENMOD Convention in her theory. Certainly, it does contain a low threshold of damage – i.e. it only requires the resultant harm to be ‘widespread, long-lasting or severe’, which terms are defined at a very low level [for example ‘long-lasting’ refers to ‘several months or more, or approximately a season’]. Higgins, however, appears to suggest that the ENMOD definitions can be transposed into a crime of ecocide for oversight by the International Criminal Court. With respect, it is undoubtedly the case that the very low threshold of harm  contained in the ENMOD Convention reflects the preposterous notion that any state would use such tactics. Where similar terms have been used in other laws of war provisions their meaning has not been set at such a low threshold.

The notion of ecocide did not make it into the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, although wartime environmental destruction is included where such damage was (1) intentionally caused, (2) fulfils the very high threshold (of Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol – above) of ‘widespread, long-term and severe’ damage and (3) is also disproportionate to the military advantage anticipated from the attack (See Article 8(2)(b)(iv)). Clearly here the Statute has adopted the terms of Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol, and added an additional criterion of disproportionately. This additional element serves to further restrict the scope of the crime. And to this extent international law already contains a crime of ecocide, albeit confined only to situations of international armed conflict (i.e. not ‘civil wars’).

As for the other crimes listed in the ICC Statute, environmental destruction of a nature and scale as to constitute ‘genocide’ cannot be completely ruled out of the Statute’s definition, but the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ appears to be far less amenable. This is not to say that the ICC would not relish an opportunity to expand on the notions contained in the Statute but with a quickly expanding case list and the requirement for it to consider only the gravest of international crimes it is unlikely to be doing so any time soon. Another point to remember regarding ICC jurisdiction at present is that it concerns only individual criminal responsibility (not states and not companies) and requires jurisdiction to be found on the basis of either treaty ratification or reference made via the Security Council – which all serve to limit severely the list of potential defendants.

In conclusion, this author is quite skeptical of the acceptance of a crime of ecocide at the international level, emanating either from existing peacetime obligations or from the adoption of a new treaty (or amendment to the ICC). This author does not believe that wartime protections of the environment offer value for the development of a peacetime concept of ecocide. Indeed, the three-fold threshold of harm coupled with the conjunction (i.e. widespread, long-term and severe) has severely incapacitated the applicability of that provision in wartime. Consequently, the wartime experience should serve as a warning to others who seek to adopt a three-fold threshold of harm when the simpler, one-word threshold of ‘severe’ damage can cover all dimensions of duration, breadth and severity of harm in a more flexible way.

[i] As it was more recently in the 2007 ICJ case concerning the Application of the Genocide Convention (Bosnia-Herzegovina v Yugoslavia).


Further reading on Ecocide is available via Polly Higgins‘ book, Eradicating Ecocide, the website of the Ecocide campaign, and the Ecocide information pack.