Indigenous Knowledge Policy Framework

Framework Vision

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) acknowledges the importance of working with and including Indigenous knowledge (IK) alongside regulatory information contained in its assessments and regulatory processes. Indigenous ways of knowing and cultural context enhance the CNSC’s understanding of the potential impacts projects will have and strengthen the rigour of project reviews and regulatory oversight. This framework is intended to clearly articulate the CNSC’s approach to working with Indigenous peoples and their knowledge, and it is consistent with the federal approach and framework for working with IK.

1. What is Indigenous knowledge?

Indigenous knowledge (IK) means knowledge that is unique to Indigenous peoples. IK is the term used in legislation (such as the Impact Assessment Act) and by regulatory bodies because it covers the evolving knowledge of Indigenous peoples and encompasses terms like traditional knowledge, traditional land use and archeological assessment.

IK is a body of knowledge gathered by generations of Indigenous peoples living in close contact with their traditional territories and resources. IK is cumulative and dynamic. It is built on the historic experiences of a people and adapts to social, economic, environmental, spiritual and political change.

IK forms part of a larger body of knowledge which encompasses knowledge about cultural, environmental, economic, health, political and spiritual inter-relationships. IK must also be understood in the context of, and not separated from, the language and perspectives and world views of the knowledge holders. IK can be considered both tangibly (e.g., wildlife species or traditional plants) and intangibly (e.g., quiet enjoyment of the landscape or sites used for teaching). Intangible values are often linked with spiritual, artistic, aesthetic, and educational elements that are frequently associated with the identity of Indigenous communities. These intangible aspects of IK are deeply rooted within Indigenous cultures and way of life.

Although there are many definitions of IK, none is universally accepted. However, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) clearly summarizes the context with its definition:

Indigenous knowledge is the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, rituals and spirituality.Footnote 1

2. Overview of the CNSC’s approach to working with Indigenous knowledge

As the lifecycle regulator for the nuclear industry in Canada, the CNSC has a broad mandate:

The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment, to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to disseminate objective scientific and technical and regulatory information to the public.Footnote 2

IK may be considered part of the work of the CNSC’s subject matter experts (SMEs) in a wide variety of fields and business lines to help the Commission discharge its mandate. The CNSC acknowledges the importance of working with IK and integrating it into its assessments and regulatory processes. Indigenous ways of knowing and cultural context enhance the CNSC’s understanding of the potential impacts nuclear projects may have and strengthens the rigour of project reviews and regulatory oversight.

IK is held by the Indigenous people who live and/or use the area of a proposed project or facility, and who have a long-term relationship with the lands, waters and resources that are likely to be impacted. As such, incorporating IK into the CNSC’s processes can assist and complement the work conducted by CNSC staff, proponents and the Commission in many ways. IK can be shared in different forms: in writing, in photos, through video, orally, in ceremonies or through activities on the land. The CNSC works to integrate IK information into areas of its regulatory work, as applicable. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • licensing at various stages of a project (i.e., siting, construction, operations, decommissioning and post-decommissioning)
  • environmental reviews (e.g., effects assessment, valued components)
  • environmental risk assessments and human health risk assessment reviews
  • the CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (including sampling plans and screening levels)
  • ongoing engagement and outreach with Indigenous communities
  • oral and written interventions at Commission proceedings (hearings, meetings)

It is important for the CNSC to work with and consider IK to follow best practices, comply with legislative requirements (e.g., Impact Assessment Act), building relationships and trust with Indigenous peoples, and to fulfill duty‑to‑consult obligations. Overall, IK can help strengthen the rigour of project reviews and regulatory oversight.

Regulatory document REGDOC-3.2.2, Indigenous Engagement, explains that the CNSC expects licensees and proponents to work directly with Indigenous communities and knowledge holders on gathering, incorporating and reflecting IK in their project design, operations, reports and monitoring, as appropriate.

The CNSC uses an approach to working with IK that is consistent and informed by the federal Discussion Paper: Indigenous Knowledge Policy Framework for Proposed Project Reviews and Regulatory Decisions and Indigenous Knowledge Under the Impact Assessment Act: Procedures for Working with Indigenous Communities.

For more information on the CNSC’s approach to Indigenous consultation, engagement and reconciliation please see:

2.1 General principles for working with Indigenous knowledge at the CNSC

The CNSC has put in place five general principles when working with IK:

  1. Collaborate with Indigenous communities and knowledge holders.
  2. Seek consent to consider Indigenous knowledge.
  3. Take appropriate measures to protect information, if required.
  4. Facilitate the gathering and consideration of Indigenous knowledge.
  5. Respect the different perspectives and world-views.

2.1.1 Collaborating with Indigenous communities and knowledge holders

The knowledge of each Indigenous community is unique to that group; therefore, how it will be integrated needs to be determined with the holders of that knowledge. Knowledge holders are experts on their own IK, and – as such – no one should re-interpret their knowledge without their direct involvement. Indigenous communities have established processes and protocols governing matters related to IK. These processes and protocols come in many forms – some may be formally documented, while others may be communicated orally, or through ceremonies. Dialogue with Indigenous communities involved in project reviews and regulatory decisions will help raise awareness and understanding of community-specific processes and protocols with regards to IK. When CNSC staff work with IK, it is recommended that:

  • communities be contacted as early as practicable during a project or regulatory process and informed that their input is being sought through their IK protocols or processes, if available
  • communities be given the opportunity to provide IK as part of the regulatory review process or other related activity
  • communities be given clear and accurate information about the project and regulatory review process (and any other areas into which IK may be appropriately integrated and reflected), and how the IK shared may be incorporated into the CNSC’s processes and reports
  • CNSC staff consider the context of broader long-term relationship building; it is crucial to  establish a relationship of trust with the community, its leaders and knowledge holders
  • CNSC staff consider the preferred language of knowledge holders and communities

Note: CNSC staff should be aware that each Indigenous community has its own laws and customs regarding who holds different aspects of a community's IK, how and with whom it might be shared, and who has authority to share and pass it on.

2.1.2 Seeking consent to consider Indigenous knowledge

Only the community and knowledge holders can decide whether they are willing to provide access to their IK to the CNSC.

In the context of IK, a community should give consent in writing to CNSC staff to access and integrate that community's IK into its regulatory processes and reports. When seeking consent with regards to IK, CNSC staff should work closely with the community to:

  • clearly set out how the information will be collected and how it will be considered, and ensure that community members are in agreement with the process and approach
  • give community members and leadership clear information about how the information and knowledge will be treated, the relevant access-to-information legislation requirements and the CNSC’s approach to protecting and keeping IK confidential
  • consider, upon request, collaborative approaches to including IK in CNSC reports (e.g., drafting appropriate sections of reports that include IK in collaboration with Indigenous communities)

Note: In some instances, Indigenous communities prefer not to have IK integrated into the CNSC’s processes and reports. The CNSC will respect each Indigenous community’s requests and preferences with respect to working with the IK they have shared.

2.1.3 Assuring confidentiality

The CNSC acknowledges the importance of establishing consent-based processes to prevent unauthorized disclosure of IK. It also acknowledges that Indigenous communities will determine whether to share their knowledge, and what aspects of that knowledge they wish to request to share in confidence with the CNSC.

The CNSC recognizes that IK provided in confidence must be protected from unauthorized disclosure. The Commission is a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal and has mechanisms and procedures to protect certain informationFootnote 3 submitted as part of a Commission proceeding from public disclosure. When requested by Indigenous communities and knowledge holders, the Commission Registry can address a request to keep the IK provided confidential. The IK shared with CNSC staff is treated in a manner that respects the requests of Indigenous communities and knowledge holders, while recognizing that any information under the control of the CNSC is subject to access-to-information legislation. For more information, refer to the Request to Protect Confidential Information form or contact the Commission Registry at

2.1.4 Support to facilitate the gathering and consideration of Indigenous knowledge

CNSC staff recognize that Indigenous communities may require support to facilitate the gathering, transmission, and consideration of IK in licensee projects, proposals and the CNSC’s regulatory review processes.

Indigenous communities also require adequate time and resources to collect and manage IK, including human resources, education, training, research, translation, information storage and management, among other activities. Managing these issues will enable Indigenous communities to meaningfully participate and provide IK as part of project reviews and regulatory processes. The CNSC is committed to working with each Indigenous community to ensure the availability of funding, or other mechanisms, to support their participation in CNSC-led projects and regulatory review processes of interest, as early as possible.

2.1.5 Respect the different cultural perspectives and world-views

The CNSC is a technical, evidence-based organization; it recognizes that different types of knowledge exist and that they can overlap, intersect, complement and inform one another.

When IK is appropriately integrated into CNSC processes and decisions, it is a valuable source of information about a project and the local environment. CNSC staff acknowledge and respect the different cultural perspectives and worldviews unique to knowledge holders and Indigenous communities.  Respect for different knowledge systems and each other are important principles that the CNSC will uphold when working with Indigenous communities and their knowledge.


Footnote 1

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Local Knowledge, Global Goals, online: Consulted on August 2, 2019.

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Footnote 2

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Regulatory framework overview, online: Consulted on September 30, 2020.

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Footnote 3

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Rules of Procedure (SOR/2000-211), s. 12.

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