Lifeways has been leading Aboriginal Engagement, First Nations Consultation and undertaking studies of traditional land use along with Indigenous communities for many years. These activities have become an integral part of the development approvals process both provincially and federally and facilitate the integration of aboriginal knowledge, concerns, and mitigation strategies into development projects.

First Nations people, or those of Aboriginal heritage, and their ancestors have been present in Alberta for the last 12,000 years. Under Treaty with the Crown, First Nations were granted the right to collect, hunt, fish, and trap for food on Crown land and perform traditional ceremonies and burials. Based on Supreme Court of Canada decisions, before certain developments may proceed, proponents must ensure that consultation is undertaken with First Nations groups on lands where existing Treaty or Constitutional rights may be infringed upon by development activities (see Haida Nation v. British Columbia 2004, and Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada 2005). First Nations groups view the treaties as inviolable, and take the rights described therein very seriously. Governments and developers are expected to fairly and reasonably treat concerns raised by Aboriginal communities during the consultation process.

In Alberta the guidelines on the consultation process, The Government of Alberta’s Guidelines on Consultation with First Nations on Land and Natural Resources Management, are a recognition that the Province of Alberta must consult with First Nations and Metis Settlements where land development activities may adversely impact rights and traditional uses of Crown lands. Alberta has delegated portions of this consultation process to industry, including notification to band councils or designates of developments and their potential adverse impacts, meetings to discuss ideas, comments, and concerns of the potentially affected First Nations and Metis Settlements, and the development of strategies to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts.

Traditional Use Studies (TUS) are often an important part of the consultation process. These are often also referred to as Traditional Land Use (TLU) studies or studies of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). These studies seek to gauge the extent of past and present use of the land for traditional pursuits important to Aboriginal communities including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, trapping, collection of plants including berries and herbal medicines, and ceremonial pursuits. The collection of this data is typically through informant interview of Elders or other community members and field visits to areas where specific information from oral sources is recorded. These studies help preserve the cultural patrimony of potentially affected community. They also help build the collective knowledge of the community. Traditional Use Studies with First Nations have occurred in Alberta for many years but in late 2006 the process became more formalized with the official release of the new policy and guidelines.

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