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The Program

Based on the need to facilitate the undertaking of Traditional Use Studies (TUS), the Government of Alberta, beginning in the year 2000, acted on two fronts: policy development and helping to standardize the process to be used for undertaking TUS.

Government of Alberta Policy

In 2000, the Government produced a pioneer document in this area: In Strengthening Relationships: The Government of Alberta's Aboriginal Policy Framework. This involved a commitment to consult with Aboriginal Peoples when land management and resource development decisions might infringe on their existing Treaty or other constitutional rights.

In 2002, development of a "made-in-Alberta" consultation policy was initiated. From September to December 2003, the first round of discussions about the policy with First Nations and industry were conducted with the second round of discussions held from January to July 2004. By August 2004, the draft consultation policy was refined based on input from First Nations and industry. Discussions were held with First Nations and industry to develop Consultation Guidelines between November 2004 and May 2005. On May 16, 2005, the Government of Alberta's First Nations Consultation Policy on Land Management and Resource Development was approved.

The Guidelines came into effect on September 1, 2006 with updates to the guidelines made in November 2007 since the Government believes that continue to evolve. The Policy is available on the Department's website at www.aboriginal.alberta.ca. The Policy entrenches a tri-partite process involving representatives from industry, First Nations and government. The Role of the Crown is defined as: "The duty to consult rests with the Crown (Alberta). While the key goal in all circumstances is to avoid or mitigate potential adverse impacts and to come to an agreeable solution, the agreement of all partners is not a requisite component of adequate consultation." The document acknowledges that this opens up the need for "accommodation" on the part of the Crown and this is further defined as "efforts to reconcile, adjust, or adapt. In that regard, it will be reflected in the regulatory process, which will take into account the efforts of project proponents to address First Nation concerns by making changes to plans and adjusting and adapting projects to minimize impacts."

The Policy "acknowledges a duty to consult with First Nations where Alberta's actions have the potential to adversely impact treaty rights" and goes on to specify the role that the government may take:

  • "Undertake consultation with First Nations on a range of provincial planning initiatives (e.g., Water for Life: Alberta's Strategy for Sustainability, integrated land management plans);
  • Provide direction and support to proposed regional consultation tables;
  • Work with First Nations to ensure traditional use study information is used to support consultation where such information is available;
  • Provide information to First Nations and industry to assist in consultation activities;
  • Where disputes arise, provide direction at the request of either party;
  • Determine the adequacy of consultation activities with the intent of avoiding adverse impacts to First Nation Rights and Traditional Uses and making efforts to substantially address the concerns of First Nations;
  • Report back to First Nations and industry regarding decisions; and
  • Consider other issues or take other actions as Alberta deems necessary."

As part of the larger consultation initiative, Aboriginal Relations is administering the First Nations Consultation Capacity Investment Program (FNCCIP) to fund TUS. This new program indicates that all First Nations within Alberta will receive a core investment to assist with building their capacity to participate in consultation-related activities regarding resource development and to plan and undertake Traditional Use Studies. This assistance was to be provided by April 2008. It is not yet known, whether or not, the funding will continue beyond this date.

Traditional Use Studies Expo

The Government demonstrated its commitment to the consultation process by hosting the Traditional Use Studies Expo on April 27th and 28th, 2006 at the Continental Inn in Edmonton. The event brought together over 250 Band Chiefs and Elders, government representatives, contractors and other specialists to reflect on successes, challenges and future needs. There were a number of formal presentations by experts not only from Alberta but across Canada. Because traditional use sites may also involve archaeological and other materials, representatives from the Government of Alberta's historic sites and archaeological designation programs presented. TUS communities also talked about their Studies. A tradeshow provided contractors with the opportunity to demonstrate Studies undertaken and technologies.

Each session was followed by discussion and Aboriginal community representatives identified a number of needs. First and foremost was the need for protocols, methodologies and standards for community-based research including: conducting oral histories with Elders, Ceremonialists, and Knowledge Keepers including historians, herbalists and others; and developing understandings and establishing criteria for land use terminology that are transferable and transparent as well as meaningful to the Aboriginal community, governments and industry. Another large area of focus was data management and the need for protocols, methodologies and standards for data management including:

  • Establishment of secure community databases for the preservation of data gathered
  • Protocols for cataloguing and archiving
  • Data management tools for ease of access by community members and others given access to the data
  • Tools for maintenance and easy updating of databases
  • Tools for comparing data sets and generating meaningful reports

Data sharing was also high on the needs list including protocols for electronic data sharing within the Aboriginal community and with other stakeholders including governments, industry and others. Finally, Aboriginal community uses for educational and celebration purposes were identified as a priority. These include: books and other publications, websites and educational resources both print and web-based.

Best Practices Handbook

Consultation and agreements on the policy framework were accompanied by a parallel process of developing standards and best practices. The Government of Alberta brought together a team of knowledgeable individuals who had been involved in the early generation of traditional use studies and related activities. The result was the Best Practices Handbook for Traditional Use Studies, published in 2003. The document was edited by Jamie Honda-McNeil, Alberta Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (now Alberta Aboriginal Relations) and Denise Parsons, Alberta Department of Energy. Funding support for the project was provided by not only the two Government of Alberta Departments but also Western Economic Diversification, Government of Canada. The Preface notes that the Handbook is not a government policy but goes on to set out its purpose as follows:

This Handbook provides information that is intended to be helpful to anyone who wants to learn about conducting traditional use studies. The information and best practices identified in this Handbook are based on interviews and discussions with peoples, communities and organizations in Alberta that have been involved in traditional use studies.
This Handbook presents what have been found to be the best practices at this time. It is recognized that the process for doing a traditional use study continues to evolve as knowledge and experience are gained.

It is important to note that Aboriginal communities determine the nature and scope of their TUS and it remains their property to use as they see fit. This is reinforced by the following statement in the Preface:

This Handbook is not a government policy, nor does it represent a government position on this matter. This Handbook is intended to provide information and is not regulatory in any way. It does not affect rights and privileges of anyone.

The Handbook addresses key topic areas including:

  • What is A Traditional Use Study?
  • Planning the Traditional Use Study
  • Conducting the Traditional Use Study
  • Applying the Traditional Use Study

The Handbook addresses the uses for TUS and provides some examples in Alberta:

A trend with recent studies is the intent to use the results of the study to create sustainable long-term benefits. One community is initiating a plan for using the information for balance and sustainable economic development, while still maintaining the capacity of the forest to support traditional uses. Another community is using the data as part of an industry referral process. In this case, the community reviews the company's proposal for a project and then provides input on issues pertaining to traditional uses. Traditional Use Study information may be put into a Geographic Information System program, in layers, to be easily accessed and used in the resource approvals and referrals process.

This section also deals with information storage and retrieval since layered studies must make use of the capacity of computer databases and electronic mapping tools. The TUS is seen as a living document that continues to engage the community. The various uses of data are also explored and some suggestions made. Maps and other visuals can be posted in public buildings such as band offices, community centres and schools. This is viewed as serving a two-fold purpose: sharing information with the community and also serving as a trigger to generate materials to add to the study. While the use of the study in negotiations with government and industry is a given, using the materials to develop curriculum is also strongly encouraged as well as sharing with other neighbouring Aboriginal communities. Above all, TUS is seen as a way of recognizing the value of Elders and also nurturing the next generation of "knowers" through the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Resources

www.aboriginal.alberta.ca - Alberta Aboriginal Relations, Government of Alberta Website

Alberta's First Nations Consultation Guidelines on Land Management and Resource Development (updated November 14, 2007).

Best Practices Handbook for Traditional Use Studies. Alberta Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Government of Alberta, 2003.

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