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Fighting for the Environment: Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Eagle Lake-1

“Being involved in this study I feel I’ve done something of value. It’s something I believe in.”

- Lawrence Lefort, Eagle Lake First Nation


Welcome to this latest post in our series, "Indigenous Knowledge Matters."


We recently collaborated with Eagle Lake First Nation for an Indigenous Knowledge study, which the community is using in its engagement on a mining project in their Traditional Territory. We talked to Eagle Lake’s Mineral Development Advisor, Lawrence Lefort, about his community’s experience gathering and using Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with this project. He said, “Industry has always had a low standard in how they treat the environment in our territory. They want gold and they’ll get it by spending as little as possible. Through this study I have a strong feeling that we can mitigate potential damage that could happen. We’ve been able to use the TEK to fight for the environment as stewards of the land. This is what we are taught generation to generation.”


So, what is TEK?

There are many definitions for TEK. The working definition SVS shares with Indigenous clients understands TEK to be the knowledge that a community holds about the land and water from a lifetime of interacting with it and being told about it by others in the community. It is a knowledge system made up of generations of knowledge transfer, experiences on the land, stories, and ways of understanding the world. Lawrence explains, “Being able to sit down and talk to people about their TEK really helped. We mapped things like groundwater springs, spawning areas, moose habitat, wild rice. There are also cougars passing through the area. And bear dens in the area. And denning places for foxes.”


The way we work with Indigenous clients in joint research teams to map TEK is similar to the way we work with those clients to record land use and occupancy information. Participants are asked if they are aware of TEK locations. Our joint research teams map each individual location and species they are aware of and ask a set of follow-up questions including the season and, in some cases, what the species uses the area for. If the mapped feature is within a development project study area, we ask the participant what concerns, if any, they have for that TEK from the project.

How is TEK used?

Now here’s what we’ve found most useful.


The TEK data can be laid out in an incredibly simple way so that it can be the most useful tool possible for the community in their negotiations and decision-making. One way to do this is to prepare a TEK map where each feature is labelled. This map links to a table that provides more details about what each feature is that people really care about and any concerns that were expressed related to the project. Ta-da! You have a tool in hand that you can take to future meetings with proponents or the Crown to be able to say “look, here are some of the areas where we have concerns and these are the things we really care about. What are you going to do to avoid or mitigate our concerns, and protect what we care about?”


Eagle Lake First Nation did just that in their negotiations with the mining proponent. “Before the meeting we sent the proponent our TEK and gave them our recommendations of what should be done to mitigate,” explained Lawrence. “We invited the Agency (CEAA at the time, now IAAC) and sat down and went over each one-by-one. They committed to them all. For example, they committed to updating their wild rice monitoring plan to include the locations we mapped. They committed to updating their groundwater modelling every three years and sending us the results because of that spring-fed lake we mapped in the area.”


How do we keep our information safe?

Some communities don’t want to share copies of labelled maps and tables with proponents or the Crown, which is no problem. They are still effective to show and talk about in a meeting — with all copies being kept and taken home by the community at the end. Other communities choose to share the maps and tables with a strong information sharing agreement in place to ensure they will be used only as the community wants. (If you’re wondering what makes a strong information sharing agreement — reach out we can point you in the right direction.) Either way, this is one way that many First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities are having an influence over development projects. This is often called mitigation planning or environmental protection planning.


If your community shares its TEK with the proponent as part of a mitigation process, you can take the reigns and make recommendations for avoidance or mitigation in writing on the record, just like Eagle Lake did. “It’s a battle of words,” says Lawrence. This way, the community’s TEK becomes a project planning tool. You can require that the Proponent respond to each of your concerns or recommendations in writing, as binding commitments, before the project moves ahead. You can review what they propose to do to avoid or mitigate the potential adverse effects. You can push back if you don’t agree, make suggestions and, in some cases, also be clear where you feel a comfort level with what is being proposed.


So, what does this all mean?

If some impacts cannot be avoided or mitigated sufficiently, you now have your basis for negotiating accommodations for the community. Lawrence gives one example of how this played out with the mining proponent. “We can’t predict all of the adverse effects, so as part of the wild rice monitoring plan, we had the proponent commit to notifying us of negative effects that occur. This would trigger offsetting or adaptive management with Eagle Lake First Nation.” He is hopeful about what they’ve achieved so far, but also cautious about what will happen next. “We’ve had a small victory here, but it’s hard to trust someone to do what they say they’ll do when there is a long history of industry doing the minimal amount required. Now we need to keep our eyes on this project going forward.”


The benefits don’t stop there. Having TEK collected in this way for one project can be useful for future projects as well. Any time a new development is proposed, or a new planning process is underway, you can pull up the TEK and quickly understand some of the initial impacts or items that need to be followed up on. Several communities we work with have their land use, occupancy, and TEK information stored in an easily searchable GIS software. Any time a new development is proposed, they overlay the project footprint with their existing data and can quickly determine whether there are likely to be impacts and whether more research is needed.


“I hope more people will take the time to be involved in sharing their TEK in the future because these studies help a community have more footing to fight from,” said Lawrence. “It’s worth it to collect it. It becomes the most valuable piece of information you’ll have to fight with.”


Blog Series: Indigenous Knowledge Matters

Welcome to our blog series that explores ways Indigenous Nations have used Indigenous Knowledge Studies (also called Traditional Knowledge or Land Use and Occupancy Studies) to assert jurisdiction, leverage influence in regulatory processes and Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) negotiations, further stewardship and cultural revitalization efforts, and to build capacity.


This series is a celebration of the extraordinary Nations and visionary leaders we have had the privilege of working with on Indigenous Knowledge studies from coast, to coast, to coast - with some resources and ideas for you to use in your own journeys. We hope you join us for the rest of the ride.  And please get in touch if there’s a topic you’d like us to explore.


Read other posts in this series:
Looking for help with an Indigenous Knowledge study?

If you know you need help with any aspect of your study, or are trying to figure out how to get started, do give us a shout. We’d be happy to discuss your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of your approach. We’re a team of social researchers who love to talk about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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About Us: Shared Value Solutions

We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects such as mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power. 


We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward. 

  • Impact Benefit Agreement Negotiation Support 
  • Technical Reviews and Regulatory Process Support 
  • Community and Economic Development Planning 
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Land Use Studies 
  • Environmental Monitoring 
  • Guardians Program Development 
  • Climate Change Readiness 
  • GIS and Mapping 




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