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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Sustainability

Communities who find that the resources on their land face development by industrial concerns must be able to plan for this, not only for the present day, but also for the well-being of future generations to ensure that the resources and the revenue from the resources continue to be available for years to come.

Engaging in sustainable practices is nothing new for Aboriginal Peoples who have been living on the land for centuries all the while maintaining their traditional economy and lifestyle. Notions of ethnic superiority by European immigrants to North America concerning methods of agriculture overlooked traditional land use and occupation by the First Nations. However anthropological studies on the use of fire ecology have shown that the Indigenous Peoples of North America used habitat fires to clear land, much like gardeners, so as to stimulate growth and to continue to harvest the resources.

While not necessarily breaking the land as farmers do, these are practices similar to agriculture, although often on a much larger scale. Anthropologist Henry T. Lewis (1929-2004) studied fire ecology in California, Southwest Asia and Alberta's Boreal Forests. His pioneering research showed how areas in the Boreal Forest were burned towards the end of winter or early spring to clear land of bushes while the soil was still frozen. (1) The same method was used in marshland. Although he itemized over 70 different uses of fire, essentially burning clears an area to make it more attractive to large game or waterfowl or facilitate their capture by hunters. The ash from the burning also enriches the soil with nutrients and stimulates growth, as the cold climate of the Boreal Forest deters the decomposition of plant matter to humus, a well-known phenomenon in this land of muskegs and peat bogs.

In this same way, controlled burning of over-grown berry bushes was commonly done by the Gitksan of British Columbia to maintain harvest productivity in traditionally-held areas.(2) Although the situation in land use has changed dramatically since pre-Columbian times, and the creation of roads and improved means of transportation have affected the traditional use of land, this knowledge has not been forgotten. In present-day Traditional Land Use Studies (TLUS) or Traditional Use Studies (TUS), which are taught at the college level, fire management and fire suppression are now an integral part of the curriculum.

Respect of the available resources is a basic concept that must be observed and such Studies help keep track of this. For example, to deplete the population of fur bearing animals on his particular territory is foolhardy for a trapper who depends on a consistent catch, year after year. The same principle applies to forest management, where it is essential to carefully assess resources and to have long-term planning for the renewal of the resources to enable constant supply for the harvesting of trees.

Maintaining water resources is another aspect of land use studies. Water cycles are tracked in the mapping process, establishing high and low water marks over the years through oral history interviews. That the water be safe and pure, free from contaminants and pollutants is another consideration that comes into play. In areas where there is farming, keeping drinking water free from phosphates used in fertilisers is important. At the Red Crow Community College, on the Kainai (Blood) Reserve, a one-year Traditional Land Use program has students examining hydrology for these reasons. Groundwater supplies are mapped as well. The high volume of water used for mining purposes, such as for oil sands, or for irrigation are also considerations that come into play in these studies.

Good management of the resources is the key to sustainability. Understanding the value of resources can be made clear through TUS and, at that point, measures can be taken to ensure sustainable harvests of the resources. TUS tend to engage the local community at the grass-roots level and this involvement leads to a sense of responsibility and greater involvement in the management of the resource and the protection of the ecosystem.

The situation is somewhat different in the case of mining operations, where a large area can be obliterated by open-pit mining. Such is the case with respect to the development of Alberta's oil sands. In this case, sustainability must include the proper management of the financial returns of developments so that future generations can also benefit from present-day exploitation.

TUS must also be understood to be an ongoing process, as the environment is constantly changing and tracking must be kept current. This, in turn, is a stimulus to the local community in which traditional knowledge continues to be drawn upon by researchers, often from the younger generations who are employed in the TUS and engage in communication with Elders and other Knowledge Keepers in the community.

Resources

Henry T. Lewis, "In Retrospect"from Blackburn, Thomas C. and Kat Anderson, eds. Before The Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians, pp 389-400. 1993. Malki Press - Ballena Press, History of Western Landscapes,Western Institute for Study of the Environment Colloquium, p.4, http://westinstenv.org/histwl/2008/02/25/in-retrospect-henry-t-lewis. Retrieved March 9th, 2009.

Leslie Main Johnson, "Traditional Tenure among the Gitksan and Witsuwit'en: Its Relationship to Common Property, and Resource Allocation",from the 1998 Vancouver conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property (IASCP), http://www.indiana.edu/~iascp/Final/johnson.pdf , p. 4-5. Retrieved March 9th, 2009.

(1) In Retrospect by Henry T. Lewis, from Blackburn, Thomas C. and Kat Anderson, eds. Before The Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians, pp 389-400. 1993. Malki Press - Ballena Press, History of Western Landscapes,Western Institute for Study of the Environment Colloquium, p.4, http://westinstenv.org/histwl/2008/02/25/in-retrospect-henry-t-lewis.

(2) From the 1998 Vancouver conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property (IASCP), Leslie Main Johnson, "Traditional Tenure among the Gitksan and Witsuwit'en: Its Relationship to Common Property, and Resource Allocation", http://www.indiana.edu/~iascp/Final/johnson.pdf , p. 4-5.

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