Traditional Knowledge -a resource for mining companies
- Traditional Knowledge -a resource for mining companies
The mining sector in Canada and elsewhere is developing a growing recognition of the value of the knowledge Aboriginal people carry about their local environment. This collective memory that is cumulative and dynamic with a particular understanding of ecosystems and change over time, can be a valuable component of project planning, resource management and social/environmental impact assessments: Researchers may gain a deeper sense of what the long-term trends are of a particular wildlife species in a particular area, feeding the technical component of a project.
By: Helen Evans* And Mitchell Goodjohn*
Constructive dialogue between companies and communities will allow for co-operation and a faster approval process. Also, companies have the opportunity to learn about factors that should be considered such as endangered species habitat, and culturally significant landscapes like graveyards, sacred sites and cabins. It is considerations like these that have become an important part of the impact assessment process.
Most terms of reference for environmental assessments require proponents to consider TK and assess the potential impacts of a project on traditional land use.
Aboriginal consultation has evolved through the courts with Section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms providing guaranteed rights to Indians, Metis and Inuit; the courts are now developing the substance of those rights. This has given rise to the need for consultation by the Crown, so on various levels, governments must consult with Aboriginal groups wherever they contemplate an action that will infringe upon Treaty or Charter rights. Furthermore, the crown will often delegate project-specific consultation to project proponents.
As a larger number of companies make the move towards a more sustainable way of working, TK is taking on a greater importance, and has value and depth beyond fulfilling regulatory requirements. Deep in Aboriginal peoples' understanding of the environment, TK can support mining companies' initiatives, and managing land and wildlife sustainably side-by- side with Aboriginal communities could become more prevalent.
Part of this responsible management is respecting the traditional livelihoods of Aboriginal peoples, before, during and after project development; they have witnessed many of the boom/bust cycles of resource development, and so while during the good times developments have the potential to provide jobs to some people within their communities; however, not all people are able to participate in employment benefits (for example, due to educational barriers) and will still rely on their traditional economy. Managing development sustainably will help communities deal with the after-effects.
One way that the mining sector, its suppliers and professional services firms can support TK is through forming successful partnerships with Aboriginal communities.
An example is IMG-Golder, an Inuvialuit environmental consulting company based in Inuvik, jointly owned by Inuvialuit business partners and Golder Associates formed in 2001, and Siksika Environmental Limited wholly owned by Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta, also formed with support from Golder. Adhering to the principle that First Nations are "the caretakers of the land," Siksika Environmental offers services to Aboriginal communities, industry, and government agencies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories. Consulting groups take on projects with varied processes and approaches. For example, the communities may have their own researchers who complete all the field work and write the final studies with Golder lending support, or in other instances, with the approval of the local communities, Golder takes on a lead role in research and reporting.
Many industry players are recognizing the value of fostering good relationships with Aboriginal communities, over and above legislative requirements. When communities are onboard with projects from the early stages, there is less resistance to development as the community feels it has a say in how projects take shape and what, specifically, its role will be. This approach goes beyond the social licence to operate.
In northern Alberta, programs are being sponsored to capture traditional knowledge. One resource company sponsored a camp on one of their leases, providing the opportunity for people in the community to perform a vegetation survey on the lease prior to development. The community not only documented what was there in terms of medicinal and traditional plants, but also gathered the information in such a way as to preserve it for future generations.
Golder was also involved with a project where six companies together sponsored an extensive traditional land use and knowledge study of northeastern Alberta. Aboriginal elders were interviewed and their knowledge was recorded in the form of maps, videos, and write-ups, which were given back to the individuals to be passed on to their children and grandchildren. Gathering TK information and mapping current and historical land use provides an educational component for the community and the mining company itself.
Mining companies can help in the process of retaining TK.
Helen Evans is a Traditional Studies Facilitator based in the Calgary AB office of Golder Associates Ltd. She holds an M. A. in Anthropology from Trent University.
Mitchell Goodjohn holds an M. Sc. in Resources and the Environment from the University of Calgary. He is Aboriginal Affairs and Traditional Use Studies Specialist in the Calgary AB office of Golder Associates.
Photos In This Story
Ensuring that sacred lands are not disturbed calls for special attention to site characteristics
Careful examination is needed to prevent damage to sacred sites.
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