Indigenous communities involved in consultations with the Crown on resource extraction projects are diverse and have varying concerns and needs. Some Indigenous communities affected by energy projects argue in favor of the sacredness of the Earth and its resources;      others look for economic empowerment to participate in shared resource management. The Indigenous participation discourse is controversial, and ‘cultural incommensurability in beliefs, values, and epistemic procedures’ (Valadez 2010: 63) makes it harder for the Crown and Indigenous communities to reach a compromise on some issues of resource development. Indigenous culture structures Indigenous disagreement, and, in this sense, disagreement is unavoidable to a certain degree – it is epistemic in nature being rooted in the completely authentic Indigenous ways of getting, testing and translating evidence. Indigenous dissent raises the key question of participatory democracy – how do those in power handle disagreement from people who have different life experiences? 

I examine two cases of disagreement between the Crown and Indigenous communities over two controversial resource development projects – the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project (TM) and the BC Hydro’s Site C Clean Energy project (Site C). In both cases, the Crown was a dominant and powerful actor; it established rules for consultations and determined the boundaries of Indigenous participation. However, in Site C consultations, the Crown resolved Indigenous disagreement on some issues by finding a compromise between evidence presented by the Site C proponent and evidence from affected Indigenous communities. In TM consultations, the Crown consistently tried to overcome Indigenous disagreement to proceed with TM as it planned originally. Almost all Indigenous evidence against TM was rejected, and Indigenous arguments were dismissed as unconvincing and rebutted with counter arguments confirming the necessity and public convenience of TM. 

Why did the Crown behave so differently in those two cases of disagreement?       

To reveal the Crown’s persistence in overcoming Indigenous disagreement with TM, I introduce a new analytical category of argument continuities (ACs) associated with a set of stable arguments and counter arguments produced and reproduced by the Crown throughout the consultation process to confirm choices initially made. ACs are indicative of the argumentative nature of reasoning by dominant and disagreeing arguers. ACs have their own life cycle – a chain of steps (behavioral dynamics) developing in a path dependent fashion (Pierson 2000) increasing the cost of adopting a certain argument. ACs illustrate how arguments chase previously made choices. The presence of ACs gives us a warning that disagreement is being suppressed in a public decision-making process.  

To understand why ACs occurred in response to almost all Indigenous arguments against TM and did not occur in response to some Indigenous arguments against Site C, I look for contextual explanations. 

I claim that disagreement works differently in different contexts of reasoning. This suggestion is exemplified by contrasting response patterns of the Crown towards Indigenous disagreement in two cases of consultations. Applying the logic of ‘contrast of contexts’ (Skocpol and Somers 1980), I reveal the contextual particularities of these cases by comparing the structure and content of consultations. First of all, I increase the visibility of the discretionary nature of the TM environmental assessment process (the process was designed and conducted by the National Energy Board; Indigenous hearings were separated from this process) by contrasting it with the cooperative nature of the Site C environmental assessment process (it was determined and conducted by the Joint Review Panel; Indigenous hearings were integrated into this process). Second, I increase the visibility of the Crown’s argumentative reasoning for TM (where the same set of arguments for TM were     produced and reproduced at the regulatory and hearing stages) by contrasting it with the compromise-seeking, deliberative, mode of the Crown’s reasoning over Site C (where arguments both for and against Site C were given equal weight and equal consideration at the regulatory and hearing stages). 

Each case of consultations is abundant with a variety of apparent and hidden contextual factors. The interplay of these factors pushes actors to behave in a certain way. The main methodological challenge of my research is to focus on most vivid, repeatedly found, contextual factors – institutional (rules and procedures) and ideational (articulated arguments) features –  that produce recurring empirical regularities in the interactions between the Crown and affected Indigenous communities. I apply the method of process tracing (Collier 2011) to identify these regularities and expose them as a set of behavioral dynamics (sequence of steps) of interacting actors. I draw two types of context-specific sequences: sequences for argumentative reasoning for TM and sequences for deliberative reasoning over Site C. These sequences demonstrate the Crown’s persistence in reasoning over a project due to: the increased costs of following the path of argumentative reasoning for TM (initial fixed costs related to the TM purchase and following costs linked to expertise, meetings, exchanges and trainings needed to persuade Indigenous communities to accept TM) and the increased benefits of following the path of deliberative reasoning over Site C (competition of evidence and resolution of this competition through changing the Environmental Impact Statement in regards to methodology for determining cumulative effects of Site C). 

The TM and Site C sequences reveal the conjunctural nature of reasoning by the Crown: how differences in some contextual factors (procedures and rules) produce significant variations in the Crown’s behavioral dynamics (increasing returns) and lead to different outcomes in consultations – a stability (presence of ACs) or change (absence of ACs) in reasoning. Indigenous disagreement works differently depending on the context: varying outcomes are associated with polar natures, deliberative or argumentative, of reasoning. Regardless of how disagreement plays out, it does not mark a failure for the process of consultations. Being epistemic in nature, Indigenous disagreement must be seen as an intrinsic feature of the context of consultations, and like a sailor capturing the wind resistance to move the ship forward and not sink, the Crown should harness Indigenous disagreement and resolve it instead of ignoring or fighting it with ACs.

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Collier, D., 2011, ‘Understanding Process Tracing’, Political Science & Politics, 44:4, 823-30.  

Pierson, P., 2000, ‘Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics’, American Political Science Review, 94:2, 251-67.

Skospol Th., Somers M., 1980, ‘The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 22:2, 174-97. 

Valadez, J., 2010, ‘Deliberation, Cultural Difference, and Indigenous Self-Governance’, The Good Society, 19:2, 60-5.