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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Aseniwuche Winewak Nation of Canada Traditional Land Use Study

By Marc Levasseur, Traditional Land Use Coordinator

AWN Vision & Perspective

Basic overview from Traditional Land Use Coordinator

The importance of a well documented Traditional Land Use Study (TLU) is quite obvious. This is what generations to come will look to for information and guidance in their self identification. Also, the thirst for knowledge from all can be quenched if a group is willing to publish their TLU study (or parts of it). The public's interest in culture and the accessibility that Internet offers (and other sources of information) make for great tools to promote a culture.

Sacred Site Documentation The first thing that needs to be understood before anything is done is having the participation of the Elders and community members. This is the backbone of any well-made Study. The best intentions, best equipment and countless university degrees will not add up to anything without the involvement and enthusiasm of the community. Respecting cultural protocols will go a long way in getting and maintaining a good relationship with community members.

A proper database and archiving system should be looked at before even starting the collection of information. This will ensure that information is kept safe and can be retrieved easily. Electronic systems are more versatile and can host loads of information without taking any physical space. Backup of information needs to be considered since hard copy can deteriorate and computer systems are prone to failure.

Accuracy and details both in interviews and site visits is key. Nobody wants to read a history book that has invalid or incomplete information. This can be a challenge as not all stories and customs were passed down and certain individuals with amazing knowledge are no longer with us. The interview process is the first step in a good TLU. Spending time developing a methodology and questionnaire will save time in the long run and provide more uniform data format that is easier to catalogue and go back to.

Sacred Site Documentation Personal interviews can be used to gather stories and aspects of the cultures that individuals are familiar with. These can encompass traditional stories that were passed down, personal stories of how they lived and used the land, and cultural customs practiced by them and their ancestors. A second type of interview would involve maps of the traditional territory (or electronic versions in the form of GIS). During these interviews, particular questions about the use of the land can be asked. These include information about hunting grounds, spiritual sites on the one hand and, on the other, the camping/habitation and graves sites (a more extensive list will be included somewhere else in the site). This type of interview will pave the way to site visit at a later date. Another type of interview can also prove useful. Group interviews are excellent to get information because, as people remember a part of one particular story, others can help fill in to have a more complete picture and, as one story leads to another, the potential is unlimited. However, from a technical point of view, this type of interview can be a challenge. The recording of such a session is very difficult by electronic device and/or by a technician taking notes.

Site visits are probably the most exciting part of TLU work but are also the most time consuming and also involve the most cost. When it comes to on-the-ground work, a solid set of mapping interviews with associated maps should be the base of the operation. Dividing the territory into sections and having a good understanding of the possible access to each site is mandatory to be efficient in the collection of data. Depending on staff, resources and access, ground work might be a multi-year project unfortunately in terms of both time and resources. Proper and safe transportation is a must when going to remote locations for (possibly) multiple days.

When it come to site visits having the proper recording equipment and trained technicians is critical since, in some case, a trip to a certain location will be a chance in a lifetime due to the fact that it is so remote. Accurate (and reliable) equipment that is properly calibrated and programmed will take any guessing out while in the bush. Having a technician that will gather critical information accurately and consistently makes for an easier quality-control process before entering data into a database. Spending time in training technicians will pay off in the quality of information collected. Also, an aspect that need not be over-looked is the safety of the individuals and Elders that are working in remote locations. Proper safety training and safety gear is a must (for both natural and industrial hazards since the province has been invaded by industry).

Keeping the Elders and the community informed of the progress and highlights of the Study assures that the interest and enthusiasm stays within the group. This will make the relationship more tangible as they can see how their knowledge is building an amazing document.

Since government and industry always ask if the Study is complete, they (and the public at large) need to understand that this is a living document and that, if there is an end to it, this would translate to the death of a culture.

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