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A History of Land Use Studies from the 1960s to the Present

The need for Land Use Studies emerged in North America in the 1970s as pressures for land development, whether for industrial or other uses, heated up, and intersected with the Aboriginal communities whose way of life was intimately connected with that land. Such developments would not only impact traditional life including hunting and fishing but also land claims and settlements.

Carving Faces, Caving Lives This was particularly important in Canada. As early as 1959, the National Energy Board was established by the Government of Canada to regulate oil and gas developments and the construction of pipelines, as well as the export of natural gas. As the energy sector grew over the next 15 years, it became obvious that more action needed to be taken to ensure that the needs of Aboriginal Peoples and land use issues were not ignored.

In 1971, the Government of Québec anno1unced the development of the La Grande hydro-electric project. The project, which aimed to cover 11, 500 square kilometres of wilderness, was launched without public consultation. This land was home to thousands of Cree and Inuit peoples who were greatly concerned about the impact that this project would have on their homes and traditional life styles. The La Grande hydroelectric project was one of the very first development projects in which the provincial government did not consider those who called this vast area home before they announced their plans. As a result of this, the need for public consultation was highlighted and implemented during future developments.

The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry is well-known for its findings on the environmental, social and economic impact of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Conducted by Justice Thomas Berger from 1974 to 1977, the inquiry was the first time a natural resource development project was reviewed by the public before actual construction began. Through numerous public consultations with Aboriginals and non- Aboriginal peoples in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and across Canada, Berger concluded that the environmental impact would be detrimental to the way of life of the Indigenous peoples, and recommended that development be delayed. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Impact Assessment, and subsequent legislation, set a precedent for new resource development projects in Canada. Over the next twenty years, a common methodology and practice for conducting what became known as Traditional Use Studies emerged.

Carving Faces, Caving Lives As more and more First Nations' communities undertook Traditional Use Studies, also known as Traditional Land Use Studies or Traditional Land Use and Occupancy Studies, the information collected became very useful for those communities engaged in land claims settlements. In 1997, the oral histories and land use data collected in a Traditional Use Study was used in the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in Delgamuukw. The Court recognized that oral history is a valid form of evidence to demonstrate Aboriginal title when accompanied with physical evidence of occupation. This ruling underlined the importance of Traditional Use Studies as they were considered valuable in their own right.

The Province of Alberta took a leadership role in facilitating and funding such studies. As of 2008, 29 Traditional Use Studies involving 39 First Nations communities, were underway. What initially began as government-sponsored and sanctioned studies to fulfill legislative requirements, in the end, resulted in increased appreciation for Aboriginal traditional knowledge, ways of life and governance. Traditional Use Studies have become vehicles for documenting the rich history, traditions and culture of Aboriginal Peoples.


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