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Study, Methodology and Practice

Carving Faces, Caving Lives Traditional Use Studies (TUS) is a relatively new activity that is multi-disciplinary in nature involving both the humanities and the sciences. Such Studies use a number of tools and techniques ranging from research into primary and secondary resources to oral histories and a range of mapping techniques. As TUS has a background in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments carried out in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, many of the same methods are used. Methodology is defined as a set practice or way of carrying out a study or experiment. While there is not a set format for conducting TUS, most Studies generally have three phases: planning, undertaking the Study, using the Study. Each phase has several steps or activities to ensure the study is as comprehensive as possible.

Phase One- The Planning Phase - involves several very basic but important steps that include identifying the need for a traditional use study. This step involves community discussion. Common reasons expressed for conducting such studies include resource development expansion and the importance of capturing the knowledge of aging Elders. This phase also involves. deciding who will be responsible for the study; advising the community and obtaining community support for the study; determining how the traditional use study will be managed; and creating a budget, acquiring funding and identifying project supporters.

Phase Two - Undertaking the TUS - involves numerous activities and steps that include choosing and training researchers; interviewers and mapping technicians; advising Elders and custodians of knowledge about the study; conducting interviews; mapping the data collected from the interviews; carrying out research; making use of electronic data-gathering and report-generating tools such as computer databases. An important element of this phase is mapping the traditional land use because, having a concrete map of land use,can prove useful to communities in such things as land claims, treaty entitlement negotiations, and resource development planning.

The Final Phase - Using the Traditional Use Study - is a very important step as it is the culmination of the process. This final phase can include determining the value of the study; sharing the information with project stakeholders; applying the results to community activities and needs; establishing a living document that is updated often as new data and information are collected. Obviously, this phase can also include numerous activities as more objectives are identified.

When resource developers initiate studies, they are often given a shorter timeframe based on the company's plans for development. The information collected from this shortened study can, then, be used as part of an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Carving Faces, Caving Lives During Phase Two, interviews are carried out and oral histories are recorded. Many communities also use "participatory action research" to collect traditional knowledge. This process involves active consultation and participation of community members for creating a plan, gathering, and examination of the information.

Global Positioning System (GPS) is commonly used when tracking and recording land use. This practice ensures that traditional land use patterns are accurately documented. Geographic Information System (GIS) is a mapping tool used in conjunction with GPS so that communities can store and retrieve traditional knowledge. It is a more detailed data storage system. Communities can hire an outside GPS technician, train someone from the community, or train one of the interviewers. May Aboriginal communities are choosing to train members of their community to undertake these activities thereby building knowledge and skills as well as capacity.

There are far-reaching implications of such work, which can result in an inter-generational transfer of knowledge. Working with Elders and capturing their knowledge is important not just for the purpose of collecting that data but also to educate the younger generation, who may not know the land as intimately as the Elders. Traditional Use Studies can help to connect these two generations as well as reconnecting the younger generation to the land.

In Alberta, the provincial Department of Aboriginal Relations works with First Nations' communities to help facilitate TUS and consult with all parties involved. Many millions of dollars have been designated to these projects by the Government of Alberta government and it is important that all Albertans are aware of the existence of these studies and their importance to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals peoples.

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            For more on Aboriginal land use in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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