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Using Traditional Use Studies

Because Traditional Use Studies (TUS) are a relatively recent tool for gathering information about Aboriginal communities, their uses continue to evolve. The beneficiaries include: the Aboriginal community itself, other Aboriginal Peoples, industry, governments, the educational sector and the general public. These potential uses are economic, political, environmental and socio-cultural.

Economic Benefits

The development of the consultation process and tools for TUS have had some immediate and positive impacts: Aboriginal communities not only must be consulted about uses impacting on their Treaty and related lands but also that they have the potential to benefit from such uses. Many Aboriginal communities are severely economically disadvantaged and conditions for residents resemble those in the developing world. TUS provides opportunities to employ Aboriginal researchers and technicians as well as involving Elders and other Knowledge Keepers. Resource and other projects provide opportunities for Aboriginal entrepreneurs and also for employment. The potential economic impacts can stimulate a new generation of graduates to find employment in industrial and other activities that provide economic benefits.

Political Benefits

It is unquestionable that the capturing of traditional knowledge through oral histories has been of importance in litigation whether to do with Treaty rights, claims of Aboriginal self-government. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has made a direct link between TUS and rights. On their official website, they make available Chief Kerry's Moose: A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research and Design by Terry N. Tobias. The Guide is a joint publication of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Ecotrust Canada. Tobias writes:

Any group with aspirations to meaningful self-government and recognition of rights will engage in this kind of research. Governments probably will not drop extinguishment and surrender of aboriginal title from their agendas, although they may use different words for them. The need to do cultural research will remain as important as ever. Your grandparents' and parents' knowledge about their cultural pursuits and use of resources is central to getting recognition of rights in today's political climate. Similarly, the ability to document your own and your childrens' land and water-based activities may be critical for proving title and rights in the decades to come(p. xii).

In British Columbia, the Chiefs have been actively seeking new definitions of their rights. An article reprinted in The Edmonton Journal on Saturday, March 7th, 2009 [Canwest News Service, Victoria] notes:

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong is expected to bring the Recognition and Reconciliation Act to the legislature this month. It gives First Nations the right to make decisions and share in revenues from their traditional land, so they would benefit from mining, forestry, fisheries and other economic development. It also envisions an aboriginal council working on equal footing with the provincial government.

Environmental Benefits

It is clear that mapping of traditional uses, involving as it does use of the land and its resources including plants and animals, will help to highlight issues around the protection of the environment, appropriate as well as sustainable uses.

The term sustainable development has been well known since 1987 with the publication of Our Common Future, by the World Commission on Environment Development. The definition for sustainable development from Our Common Future, "...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability to future generations to meet their own needs" has come to be known as the most standard definition. The definition for sustainable development shows the correlation between sustainable development and TUS. In fact, some First Nations are interpreting the Treaties as entitling them to a pristine environment. In order for TUS to have the most expansive impact on discussions of environmental issues, aspects of the Studies must be made more widely accessible.

As academic Shirley Nelson points out in her Masters thesis - The Utilization of Traditional Knowledge, land use and occupancy studies -the only way to ensure sustainable development is through developing a completely new system that combines western and First Nations' practices, rather than trying to integrate one into the other. Only then will Aboriginal rights and values, and equal participation in decision making be truly recognized and on par with western thinking. The Government of Alberta's Aboriginal consultation program was designed with this goal in mind, and the Program has had preliminary success in getting First Nations' communities and the provincial government working together to conduct TUS and to use the studies to further the development of all Albertans.

Socio-Cultural Benefits

Because the history of Aboriginal Peoples has largely been written by Non-Aboriginal historians, there is an enormous need for new scholarship for use in the primary and secondary as well as post-secondary systems of education. TUS materials are invaluable resources for not only Aboriginal course materials but also for history, social studies, natural history, the environment, science and other courses that would benefit all learners. This could help to right the balance between western thought, values and traditions and those of indigenous cultures based on oral traditions.

Colonialism and the residential school movement have resulted in a loss of culture. TUS is an invaluable vehicle for education and cultural empowerment. With respect to the public at large, TUS findings can help to change negative and uninformed attitudes to positive ones.


  • McGregor, Deborah. "Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Sustainable Development: Towards Coexistence" in In the Way of Development; Indigenous Peoples, LifeProjects and Globalization,edited by Mario Blaser, Harvey A. Feit, and Glenn McRae, 72-91. London: Zed Books, 2004.
  • Nelson, Shirley. The Utilization of Traditional Knowledge, land use and occupancy
    studies.Edmonton: University of Alberta, 2006 [unpublished MA thesis].
  • Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Chief Kerry's Moose: A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research and Design by Terry N. Tobias. Joint publication of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Ecotrust Canada, http://www.cic.b.ca/Resources/tus.htm. Retrieved: March 7th, 2009.
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