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GAP ANALYSIS REPORT #12 Managing Development? Knowledge, Sustainability and the Environmental Legacies of Resource Development in Northern Canada Arn Keeling, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) John Sandlos, MUN Jean-Sébastien Boutet and Hereward Longley, MA Candidate, MUN DRAFT

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Page 1: Managing Development? Knowledge, Sustainability and the ...yukonresearch.yukoncollege.yk.ca/.../sites/2/2013/09/12-Keeling-et-al… · A. Keeling, J. Sandlos, J-S. Boutet and H. Longley

GAP ANALYSIS REPORT #12

Managing Development? Knowledge, Sustainability and the Environmental Legacies of Resource

Development in Northern Canada

Arn Keeling, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) John Sandlos, MUN

Jean-Sébastien Boutet and Hereward Longley, MA Candidate, MUN

DRAFT

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A. Keeling, J. Sandlos, J-S. Boutet and H. Longley Managing Development

ReSDA Draft Gap Analysis Report #12 (2013) 1

Introduction

Since the early twentieth century, grand visions of industrial development in the

circumpolar Arctic have at times captured the attention and imagination of policy makers and the

general public. The periods of high salience for northern resource development issues are many:

explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s attempt in the 1920s to convince the Canadian government and

the public that a ‘Polar Mediterranean’ could be built in the Arctic based on agriculture and the

expansion of cities; post-WWII endeavors from successive national governments to build their

own version of a modern north; the resulting hydrocarbon and mining developments in Arctic

locations such ranging from Alaska to Russia and Scandinavia; and more recent comprehensive

planning exercises such as Quebec’s Plan Nord promoting a bright future for the region based on

the exploitation of non-renewable resources. By the 1970s, questions surrounding the economic

and environmental impact of these projects on northern communities, particularly Aboriginal

communities, came to the forefront in North America in part due to the public airing of the issue

that emerged from Justice Thomas Berger’s Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, as well as from

the growing environmental movement in the south (Berger 1977; Nassichuk 1987; Page 1986;

Sabin 1995).

In the academic realm (and to a lesser extent in policy circles), the idea that development

might not be wholly positive for northerners evolved in Canada into an Innisian critique

suggesting that the economic benefits of northern development were largely exported out of the

North, leaving behind economic disruption (due to impacts on Aboriginal hunting and trapping

activities) and environmental devastation as its legacy (Rea 1968; Zaslow 1988). If this early

discourse suffered from its tendency to render Aboriginal people as passive victims of

development, unable to adapt creatively to changing environmental and economic circumstances,

it did permanently disrupt the idea that large-scale resource development embodies progress,

with no short or long-term environmental and social consequences for Aboriginal and northern

communities. Increasingly, authors have conceptualized resource peripheries throughout the

circumpolar North as “deeply contested spaces,” with intersecting industrial, environmental,

Aboriginal, and geopolitical dimensions at play (Hayter, Barnes, and Bradshaw, 2003, 15).

Environmental historians joined the critique of the “industrial assimilation” (Piper 2009) of

northern environments around the globe in the twentieth century, highlighting the links between

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ReSDA Draft Gap Analysis Report #12 (2013) 2

resource exploitation, environmental degradation, and the social and economic dislocation of

local communities (e.g., Coates 1991; Josephson 2002; Morse 2003; Sandlos and Keeling

2012a).

In response to these problems, in recent decades a patchwork of public policy and

supraregulatory measures has emerged in Canada that aim to mitigate the potential negative

environmental and economic impacts of northern development projects on local communities.

These include environmental impact assessments (EIA) to private impact and benefit agreements

(IBAs) between resource companies and Aboriginal communities. As we outline below, scholars

have contributed to these developments with analysis and critique of the manner in which

Aboriginal people have been incorporated into development planning and environmental

assessment processes. We suggest, however, that the literature on northern communities and

resources tends still to be disproportionately focused on the management of renewable resources,

particularly wildlife, despite the obvious significance of the non-renewable sector to the past,

present and future well-being of indigenous populations. The large volume of literature on

wildlife co-management has tended, for example, to drown out discussions of how equitable and

meaningful Aboriginal participation might be incorporated into the management and exploitation

of non-renewable resources such as minerals and hydrocarbons. In the discussion that follows,

we focus on the literature on Canada’s territorial north, where these questions have been most

fully developed. More research is needed, we suggest, on how a multi-dimensional

understanding of indigenous participation and environmental knowledge—including Aboriginal

worldviews, cosmologies, and complex understandings of ‘natural resources’—might be

incorporated into the practices of assessing and managing large-scale resource projects in this

region.

A second major gap we highlight is the paucity of studies examining the long-term

environmental legacies of development, their ongoing impacts on communities, and the

involvement of northerners in their management and remediation. In order to draw comparisons

of historical and community impacts of resource development across the circumpolar world, here

we analyze the wider literature on the long-term environmental legacies of development,

particularly hydrocarbon extraction, abandoned mines and other developmental impacts. Rather

than conceptualize the legacies of modern development as engineering problems requiring

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technical solutions (as policy and scientific approaches do), we propose that more work is

needed on how to incorporate local community and Aboriginal perspectives and participation

into the remediation challenges of these environmental hot spots. In the broadest terms, then, our

analysis of the literature on northern communities, resource development, and the environment

suggests that the tendency of policy makers, and some university-based researchers, to confine

discussions of Aboriginal knowledge to ‘traditional’ realms such as wildlife, precludes local

engagement with the full range of environmental impacts associated with northern industrial

development. Addressing these gaps in knowledge and policy is key to the promotion of socially

just and environmentally sustainable forms of development in the North.

Industrial development, environmental governance, and the politics of knowledge

A fundamental gap in the literature on northern communities and industrial development

in circumpolar environments remains the difficult question of incorporating the worldviews of

Aboriginal people into an economic activity—the exploitation of non-renewable resources—that

is so thoroughly embedded in Western utilitarian notions of the natural world and the global

political economy of natural resources as commodities. There is a critical need for social

scientific research on how communities understand and engage in science-based, expert-driven

non-renewable resource management and development processes. By the same token, the

consequences of appropriating Indigenous knowledge for the purpose of advancing and

legitimizing industrial development, and the potential active role of local communities in the

mitigation and remediation of environmental impacts, have not been given enough attention.

There is, by contrast, a thriving literature and well-developed critique of local co-

management institutions and Indigenous knowledge that can be mobilized to consider this

problem. In the last few decades, Aboriginal people’s environmental knowledge—referred to

alternately as traditional ecological (TEK), local (LK), Indigenous (IK), and/or Inuit (IQ)

knowledge—has received growing attention in academic writing concerned with environmental

issues in the North (see Huntington, this volume). This scholarly development reflects trends

observed in practice. Spurred in Canada by state recognition of Aboriginal rights and

corresponding grassroots demand for political devolution (with the occasional achievement,

starting in the mid-1970s, of modern land claim settlements), the use and conservation of

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renewable resources has mandated a more careful and systematic consideration for Aboriginal

people’s knowledge of their immediate environment. In particular, co-management institutions

governing Arctic wildlife and fisheries have relied on the knowledge of Aboriginal people to

integrate local observations of animal behavior and harvesting data into scientific management

models (Adams, Frost and Harwood, 1993), or as a way of supporting culturally and ethically

appropriate management/conservation philosophies and praxes (Dowsley, 2009a; Tyrell, 2006).

More recently, scholars and policy makers have emphasized the urgency of engaging

with Aboriginal knowledge in order to face observed and projected global environmental change

in the circumpolar north. Within the field of human dimensions of climate change, this

information has served as empirical grounding for assessing community vulnerability and

implementing adaptation programs for Arctic populations deemed most susceptible to such

changes (Ford and Smit, 2004; Leduc, 2007). Finally, the ongoing advance of non-renewable

resource development projects in the North has been an important driver for the mounting

interest in gathering, classifying, interpreting, and communicating Aboriginal people’s relations

with the natural world. Particularly in northern North America, nowadays, but as a global trend

more generally, extractive industry proponents seek to establish communication lines with local

communities in order to: meet duties to consult and to secure free, prior, and informed consent of

affected populations (Boreal Leadership Council, 2012; Lebuis and King-Ruel, 2010); as a

strategy to secure a “social license” to operate, minimize opposition to development projects, and

determine appropriate compensation (Fidler and Hitch, 2007; Knotsch and Warda, 2009; Owen

and Kemp, 2013); and with the purpose of better assessing, monitoring, and managing the effects

of industrial development, responding to environmental stressors, and contributing to regional

economic sustainability (Armitage, 2005; Di Boscio; Gibson, 2006; O’Faircheallaigh, 2007). In

the process, traditional knowledge is increasingly sought “in the planning, assessment,

management, and monitoring of non-renewable resource development” (Parlee 2012, 68, 77).

A rich body of literature has emerged in order to analyze the successes, challenges, and

shortcomings of attending to Indigenous knowledge and participation, primarily in the context of

wildlife management (Clark and Slocombe, 2011; Dowsley, 2009b; Feit, 2005; Fernandez-

Gimenez, Huntington, and Frost, 2006; Goetze, 2005; Iwasaki-Goodman, 2005; Kendrick, 2009;

Kishigami, 2005; Kofinas 2005; Kowalchuk and Kuhn, 2012; Mulrennan and Scott, 2005; Nagy,

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2004; Peters, 2003; Tyrell 2007, 2008) with a large proportion of papers in recent years

dedicated to the study of large charismatic (and culturally significant) species, particularly polar

bears (Banks and Lee, 2009; Brower et al., 2002; Clark et al., 2008; Dowsley, 2009a; Dowsley

and Wenzel, 2008; Freeman and Foote, 2009; Freeman and Wenzel, 2006; Schmidt and

Dowsley, 2010; Tyrell, 2006, 2009; Wenzel, 2011). In a classic 2003 paper, Nadasdy presented a

critical appraisal of the outcomes of such co-management institutions and knowledge integration

processes. Not only is this integration constrained by epistemological difference—the possibly

unbridgeable gap between the types of information obtained, held and acted upon by scientists

and Aboriginal people, and the corresponding challenge of knowledge translation—but also, and

perhaps most saliently, it is determined to a great extent by political aims related to questions of

power and trust within management processes. “Biologists cannot accept TEK as a valid basis

for action in its own right,” Nadasdy asserts in the context of a Yukon case study, “without

undermining their own positions within the management system” (2003b, 378). The end result is

often an uneven struggle for legitimacy between knowledge systems constructed by actors who

are ultimately moved by different and at times contrasting sets of beliefs, values, and motivations

(Christensen and Grant, 2007; see also Ris, 1993 for a non-Aboriginal example). Solutions

proposed to address these fundamentally contentious issues commonly revolve around calls for

political devolution as a way of making Aboriginal knowledge count—Escobar’s reference to the

“geopolitics of knowledge,” which has to do with place, culture, and power (2008)—and

facilitating the development of truly “collaborative institutional arrangements among diverse

stakeholders for managing or using a natural resource” (Castro and Nielsen 2001, 230). So far,

the research record has not clearly indicated whether such answers, which as Castro and Nielsen

point out are typically institutional and political in nature, hold promise for a meaningful

improvement of resource management in the Arctic.

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the broad literature on Aboriginal people and

resource management in northern Canada is the near complete bifurcation of work on renewable

and non-renewable resources. Despite the plethora of studies on the role of TEK and the co-

management of northern wildlife, far less research has been completed on the role of Aboriginal

knowledge and co-management participation in the non-renewable resource sectors. Northern

Aboriginal groups do have some measure of input into industrial developments through

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environmental impact assessments, impact and benefit agreements, land claims, development

corporations, as financial stakeholders in some cases, or through regional and/or international

environmental forums such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and ad hoc political associations

behind the drafting of statements such as the Moscow Declaration (Graben, 2011; Inuit

Circumpolar Conference, 2011; Nakashima, 1990; Nuttall, 1998, 2010; MacPherson, 2003;

Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Saami

Council, and Arctic Athabaskan Council, 2010; Sabin, 1995; Page, 1986). Typically,

communities are offered guarantees of growth and prosperity in the form of transfer payments

and royalties, wage employment, training programs linked to the mining and oil and gas

industry, and entrepreneurial initiatives and business creation.

But most of this involvement remains consultative in nature, occurring prior to the

development of major energy or mineral projects and with little attempt to engage in long-term

power sharing in the governance of such projects. In the policy realm and in the published

literature, we rarely, if ever, speak of Aboriginal people actively co-managing non-renewable

resources such as oil, gas, or minerals. Although wildlife co-management agreements have been

obtained as part of the negotiations surrounding major development projects as far back as the

James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement (1978),

and Aboriginal communities may be engaged with assessing and monitoring the environmental

impacts of major resource projects, they typically have far less control over the harvesting of

non-renewable resources (in terms of project timing, extraction rate, method of exploitation and

transformation, backward/forward economic linkages, nature and extent of environmental

impacts, etc.) than they do of fish and wildlife (Angell and Parkins, 2011; Mulrennan and Scott,

2005; Parlee, 2012; Traditional Knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Panel Environmental

Monitoring Advisory Board, 2012).

There are some obvious reasons for this division. Northern Aboriginal people have used

renewable biotic resources for subsistence or small-scale commercial purposes for millennia.

Devolution away from state management regimes that were introduced in the twentieth century

constituted a partial restoration of control to the communities as the primary users of these

resources (Kulchyski and Tester, 2007; Sandlos, 2007). Non-renewable exploitation, however,

has almost always proceeded with the mobilization of southern scientific and bureaucratic

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expertise as well as private sector or state capital to serve material requirements, transportation

expansions, market imperatives, or strategic military objectives on a national and global scale

(Barnes, 2005; Bocking, 2007, 2010, 2011; Keeling, 2010; Lackenbauer and Farish, 2007;

Sandlos and Keeling, 2012a). While today communities do gain economic benefits from large-

scale resource projects in the form of IBAs and other private agreements, the substance of these

contracts is difficult to analyze because resource companies generally insist that they remain

confidential (though one popular account of the IBA process associated with the Ekati diamond

mine near Lac de Gras, Northwest Territories, suggests that compressed timelines and hurried

negotiations compromised the practice) (Bielawski, 2004; see also Caine and Krogman, 2010;

Levitan, 2012). Regardless, community economic development has never been the primary

purpose of non-renewable resource development in northern Canada. Devolving additional

authority over such large-scale resource projects to local communities thus constitutes for

government and industry a potentially unpalatable shift away from projects that exist largely to

generate taxes and royalties for governments and returns for investors on financial markets. On a

broader philosophical level, the idea that living renewable resources must be managed for

sustainable harvest while inanimate non-renewables should simply be exploited as to maximize

financial returns is deeply embedded in modern Western approaches to resource management

(Hays, 1959). From this perspective, energy and mineral resources do not lend themselves to co-

management arrangements because they are not subject to management—scientific or

otherwise—in the same way as wildlife, fish, and forests. In legal terms, Aboriginal groups who

have signed treaties with the Crown have often surrendered subsurface exploitation rights in a

portion of or throughout the treaty area, a circumstance that in the eyes of state regulators and the

private sector limits Aboriginal ownership claims to underground resources (Bowman, 2011;

Abel 2003; Fumoleau, 2004; MacPherson, 2003).

By mentioning these structural and philosophical barriers to Aboriginal involvement in

(and governance over) non-renewable resource projects, our intent is not to legitimize the current

state of affairs, but to point to the historically divergent approaches to renewable and non-

renewable resource management in northern Canada, and how they have conditioned community

participation. Indeed, one of the problematic aspects of the close association of TEK and co-

management with wildlife management is that it may actually reinforce the relative exclusion of

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Aboriginal people from decision-making processes surrounding the non-renewable sector.

Whether Indigenous knowledge is used in the context of wildlife and fisheries co-management

processes, climate change vulnerability and adaptation programs, or environmental impact

assessments and monitoring associated with industrial development projects (and irrespective of

the registered successes and failures), its domain of applicability has generally remained

confined to a very localized, “traditional” understanding of the relationship of Indigenous people

to their natural environments. In practice, government officials, corporate executives, experts,

and non-governmental organizations have often assumed—rightly—that Aboriginal people

possess useful and in many cases very detailed biophysical knowledge about local plants,

animals, fish, ice and snow conditions, weather patterns, and travel routes. Yet rarely are they

considered to be proficient in other aspects of environmental expertise. The Conference Board of

Canada offers a textbook example of how this knowledge is so narrowly framed, contending that

“Aboriginal traditional knowledge can be an extremely valuable resource in the management and

mitigation of environmental impacts. The integration of traditional knowledge on local fauna and

flora from Aboriginal communities can be used to minimize impacts on animal migration routes,

mating grounds, or rare plant species” (Rhéaume and Caron-Vuotari, 2013, 61).

Several scholars have recently unpacked the confinement of Aboriginal people to the

local and the traditional spheres of inquiry from a variety of angles. Anthropologist Andrea

Procter (2012a, 2012b) has recently argued, for instance, that the tendency to equate Aboriginal

knowledge with tradition, local geographies, and wildlife has constituted a conscious strategy of

excluding Aboriginal perspectives from the “big money” resource sector in Labrador, primarily

minerals and energy. Similarly, Emilie Cameron explains that the literature on human

dimensions of climate change has failed to engage with, and be influenced by, “critical writings

on the discursive production of Indigenous peoples as traditional and local,” with the

consequence that resource extraction and shipping do not usually figure in vulnerability

assessments (2012, 104-105). Some resource companies have highlighted Aboriginal use of

mineral resources (copper at Kugluktuk, for example) as a rhetorical strategy designed to

demonstrate continuity between modern resource exploitation and traditional resource use

(Cameron, 2011). However, these large-scale, for-profit, capital-intensive activities, understood

to be inherently international and modern in nature, and as such almost exclusively the purview

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of the non-Aboriginal world, falling outside the realm of competency typically attributed to

Aboriginal people. Such a constricted view of Indigenous knowledge thus “makes it easy for

scientists and resource managers to disregard the possibility that Aboriginal peoples might

possess distinct cultural perspectives on modern industrial activities such as logging and mining”

(Nadasdy 2003a, p.120-121).

The environmental assessment and monitoring of large-scale resource development

projects can in many cases reinforce this process of confinement, limiting the application of

Aboriginal knowledge primarily to wildlife impacts, placing emphasis on the generation of

usable statistics from TEK data rather than considering Aboriginal governance, cultural values

and cosmologies (as in the dominant approach to wildlife co-management), and reinforcing an

inequitable distribution of political power between developers and Aboriginal communities

(Ellis, 2005; Houde, 2007; O’Faircheallaigh and Corbett, 2005; Stevenson, 1996). On a very

basic level, Hoogeveen (2008) has argued, the “free entry” staking system limits the scope

through which Aboriginal communities may influence development priorities, contributing to

processes of Aboriginal dispossession as community consultation takes place only at the

environmental assessment stage, after mineral interests have laid a claim to subsurface land

rights (see also Lapointe, 2010). Even at the consultative phase, environmental assessments often

fail to consider the cumulative impact of multiple resource development projects in a local area,

within regions, or across the northern territories, further confining Aboriginal knowledge

spatially to the local area immediately surrounding a particular development project (Duinker

and Greig, 2006; Galbraith, Bradshaw, and Rutherford, 2007; Mulvihill and Baker, 2001,

O’Faircheallaigh, 2007). Yet in the experience of communities, environmental change associated

with industrial resource development is tightly linked to harvesting in the non-renewable sector

over broad landscapes, as people must contend with the impacts and management implications of

each at the same time. Through everyday engagement and practices, Aboriginal people may

participate in, take pride in, be indifferent to, or sometimes reject activities taking place in and

near their communities (but also, crucially, elsewhere in the region and the world) that straddle

the renewable and non-renewable resource domains. In the process, they develop a

corresponding body of skills and knowledges that are anything but limited to the local or the

traditional spheres. “Local knowledge is not something waiting to be ‘discovered,’” Cruikshank

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explains, “but, rather, is continuously made in situations of human encounter between coastal

and interior neighbors, between colonial visitors and residents, and among contemporary

scientists, managers, environmentalists, and First Nations” (2007, 358). Aboriginal knowledge,

in other words, is evolving, changing, and inevitably engaged with the local and regional

environmental changes that accompany industrial development.

Even more unsettling is the way that this confinement of Aboriginal knowledge has

worked its way into the academic literature on resource management issues in northern Canada.

Certainly there have been an abundance of studies on the social, economic and environmental

impacts of large-scale energy or mineral developments on Aboriginal communities since the

1970s (Dallman et al., 2011; Deprez, 1974; Grégoire, 1977; Macpherson 1978a, 1978b; Notzke

1994; Sandlos and Keeling 2009; Williamson, 1974; Young, 2005). In recent years, several

studies have moved away from the “impacts,” noting the various ways that northern Aboriginal

communities have asserted agency in the face of large-scale resource development (Boutet, 2010,

2013; for discussion see Angell and Parkins, 2011). Yet there remains a fundamental conceptual

divide between the literature on co-management and non-renewable resources, despite the

significant potential for overlapping impacts of one form of resource development on the other.

As noted above, many research papers focus on the politics of co-managing hunting of key

mammal species, but very few on the potential for Aboriginal communities to have a co-

management role in massive new development projects such as the Mary River Iron Mine on

Baffin Island, Nunavut. Scholars have hitherto generally failed to engage in a serious manner

with the multifaceted ways in which Aboriginal people approach this particular form of

economic development. Barring a few spectacular instances where members of Aboriginal

groups have outwardly opposed development and thus spoken directly against the wishes of

government, industry, and a large portion of the general population—the recent Cree moratorium

imposed on all uranium development in Eeyou Istchee comes to mind—the full complexity of

views and engagements, including at the intracommunity level, remain poorly documented

(Atkinson and Mulrennan 2009). Unlike the case of wildlife co-management, very few scholars

have explored how large-scale resource development might proceed (in the case of social

acceptance by the majority) with significant formal oversight, involvement and governance by

local Aboriginal communities. As a result, Aboriginal knowledge and Aboriginal communities

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have had “a very limited influence over actual decision-making, and particularly over decisions

related to large scale resource development projects” (Parlee 2012, 57).

Would it be possible for Aboriginal people to co-manage a mine, with regional impact

boards assessing the local impacts and benefits of major projects on an ongoing basis, adopting

the principles of monitoring and analysis associated with adaptive co-management? Are there

models of environmental governance and oversight that would allow communities to propose or

enforce the mitigation of environmental impacts during the life of major projects, rather than

concentrating community consultations and input prior to development, as is the case with

environmental impact assessments? Can narrow, site specific environmental assessments of

development projects be expanded in scope, considering broad regional and cumulative impacts

of large-scale resource development on northern ecosystems? Once again, while some IBAs may

contain provisions for environmental monitoring, in the case of the Independent Environmental

Monitoring Agency set up by BHP to track impacts at the Ekati mine, Aboriginal communities

and TEK were excluded from the process. This situation is all the more serious because our

knowledge of cumulative development pressures on spatially extensive wildlife populations is

very limited. Some studies of caribou, for example, suggest the species avoids the immediate

area of development projects (Vistnes and Nellemann, 2008) but there is no comprehensive

knowledge of how mounting development impacts (mines, roads, exploration sites, etc.) across

northern Canada may (or may not) influence caribou populations today and into the future. In

general, a Canadian Arctic Resources Committee study from the late 1990s concluded that “the

relationship between IBAs and environmental assessment is not clear” (O’Reilly and Eacott,

2000), and several studies have since highlighted the challenges and potential shortcomings of

negotiated agreements and Aboriginal participation (Bowman, 2011; Caine and Krogman, 2010;

Fidler and Hitch, 2007).

Policy makers and researchers must consider how local governance over non-renewable

resources can proceed in accordance with Aboriginal cultural traditions and economic priorities,

addressing at least some of the concerns about the appropriation and marginalization of

Aboriginal knowledge that have been raised in the co-management literature. Virginia Gibson’s

work (2008) has made some steps in this direction, noting how the Yellowknives Dene and

T ch First Nations attempted to insert notions of reciprocal relationships to land into

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environmental assessment processes and government structures surrounding the NWT diamond

mines. Certainly there is a risk here of privileging certain forms of Aboriginal knowledge and

participation—some communities and leaders may, after all, only wish to participate in

development as shareholders and/or business partners. Nonetheless, addressing the knowledge

gaps on how Aboriginal communities might play a more integral role as co-managers in the non-

renewable resource sector—whether through the application of TEK and/or local political

control over the rate, timing, and type of development to meet community development

priorities—represents one of the most significant research priorities on resource development in

the Canadian North.

Environmental legacies of Northern resource development

The exclusion of Aboriginal communities from the planning and management of non-

renewable resource development resurfaces as questions emerge on how to deal with the long

term environmental legacies that may persist after an individual project has shut down. Technical

knowledge tends to dominate and orient practices of environmental remediation—activities that

are, as in the exploration and exploitation stages, deemed to be largely the domain of Western

expertise. Whether a particular development is ongoing (like the Norilsk metallurgical complex

in Siberia or oil production at Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories), completed (like the

closed mines on Svalbard or in the Canadian High Arctic), or ephemeral (like the Canol pipeline

from Norman Wells to Alaska), the legacies of historic resource activities may remain evident in

the landscape and environment for long after. This is because of the slow recovery rates of many

Arctic ecosystems, but also because of the material persistence of the environmental changes

themselves (for instance, toxic contaminants, which may move and accumulate in the

environment and in the Arctic biota [AMAP, 1997, 2002]). Considerable research activity in

recent years, whether independent scientific studies or research undertaken for assessment and

regulatory processes, has focused on the planning, construction and operational phases of large-

scale developments (see chapters in this volume). We suggest that scholars have been less

inclined to address the long-term environmental legacies of such developments, whether

concluded or continuing, particularly the extent to which local knowledge and community

perspectives are included in environmental remediation processes. Answering these questions

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will provide insight into the ongoing environmental challenges associated with historic resource

development, particularly extractive industries, and help guide decision-making in the future.

The long-term environmental legacies of resource use and development in the Arctic pose

important management and research challenges, particularly through the interaction of different

resource uses and impacts at various scales. At the landscape scale, the environmental effects of

development include surface disturbance from extractive activities and infrastructure, including

roads, shipping lanes, pipelines, mines, drilling sites, impoundment facilities, and dams. In

addition to disrupting fragile arctic vegetation, these surface works may impact permafrost

(thermokarst), alter hydrological patterns, and disrupt freshwater or even sea ice formation,

resulting in increased erosion and/or sedimentation from inundation, flooding, slumping or other

processes (Walker et al., 1987). As Forbes et. al. (2001) note, although the overall spatial extent

of these anthropogenic disturbances may be small, they nevertheless generate a patchy landscape

that may significantly affect local wildlife and vegetation patterns, and persist for long periods in

this low-energy, slow-recovering ecosystem. Linear developments such as roads and pipelines

have significantly larger direct effects along their corridors, but also beyond as wildlife, hunters

and herders seek to either avoid these installations, or to use roads for increased access to fish

and wildlife resources (Klein and Magomedova, 2003). Physical environmental legacies at

closed developments abound in the Arctic, in the form of settlements (depopulated or nearly so),

defunct production and transport facilities, and abandoned resource sites (and their wastes), from

the Kennecott Mine in Alaska to the Polaris and Nanisivik mine sites in the Canadian High

Arctic to the Russian mining ghost town of Barentsburg on Svalbard.

The waste products generated by resource exploration and development activity have also

left a significant environmental legacy in parts of the Arctic. Mining activities generate vast

amounts of waste in the form of overburden, waste rock, and tailings, which may be stored at the

surface or deposited in nearby water bodies. Mine tailings have the potential to pollute local

watercourses through physical erosion, acidification, thiosalt contamination, and the release of

heavy metals or trace process chemicals. The controversial practice of using lakes or fjords for

tailings disposal, such as at Maarmorilik in Western Greenland, may result in long-term

contamination of these environments (Sondergaard et al., 2011). Hydrocarbon exploration and

production produces significant polluting wastes, including both hydrocarbons themselves as

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well as chemicals in muds and brines used in drilling, or waters (often saline and/or sulfurous)

brought to the surface during drilling (Walker et al., 1997). Small spills from hydrocarbon

developments have been commonplace in the Arctic, and pipeline leaks also release

hydrocarbons (AMAP, 1997, Poland et al., 2003). Contamination has also affected the local

environment near mineral processing and oil and gas installations, including air pollution, fuel

spills, and community wastes, such as at the notoriously polluting Norilsk and Kola Peninsula

smelters in Russia (AMAP, 2007, 1997). Mineral resource exploration and development

processes also generate wastes, via detritus such as drill cores, seepage from drill holes, fuel

dumps and abandoned equipment (Duhaime and Comtois, 2003; Duhaime et al., 2005). Although

contaminated sites in the Arctic may be relatively fewer in number, as Poland et. al. (2003, 377)

concluded, “It is clear that the Arctic has very seriously polluted sites that are as bad as sites

anywhere else in the world.”

Three key issues related to these environmental legacies stand out as warranting further

investigation. First, there are opportunities to explore the intersection of past environmental

changes associated with large-scale development, and those associated with other natural

resource and environmental issues in the Arctic. There is a well-established scientific literature

examining the impacts of resource exploitation on wildlife, particularly on species important to

northern communities, and making conservation recommendations (e.g., Johnson et al., 2005;

Klein and Magomedova, 2003). But often, these studies are restricted to a single development

and/or target species (referred to in environmental assessment processes as Valued Ecosystem

Components); less frequently are broader questions around the legacies of historic resource

utilization for sustainable regional development considered (Caulfield, 2000; Chance and

Andreeva, 1995; Klein, 2000). Yet these legacies not only influence environmental conditions in

the present, but also offer “examples and experiences of value in assessing proposed new

projects and for designing guidelines for their development to avoid unnecessary environmental,

social and economic impacts” (Klein, 2000, 92). Research examining the interaction of reindeer

herders and the oil industry in the Yamal Peninsula region of Russia (discussed further below),

provides a useful example of research into the legacies of resource conflict and coexistence

(Stammler, 2002).

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Second, attention to the cross-scale effects of these environmental legacies would provide

greater insight into the challenges of their management. Although the long-term environmental

legacies of any given resource use may be localized, as noted above these local impacts interact

with other resources at different temporal, ecological or management scales. For instance,

pipeline development impacts include their interaction with complex, long-range caribou

migration cycles and spatial patterns (Nuttall, 2010), while mines may be voracious consumers

of energy and renewable resources far beyond the mine site itself (Keeling, 2010; Piper, 2009).

In terms of temporal scale, long-term legacies interact in complex ways with changing resource

management and use practices and other drivers of environmental change (including climate

change), presenting difficult management challenges in themselves. For instance, the extremely

long-term burden of care and monitoring of tailings management facilities, particularly those

posing toxic or radiological hazards, presents unique environmental management challenges. In

an Arctic context, climate change threatens to disrupt permafrost regimes in tailings facilities,

resulting in potential physical instability and the release of contaminants (Pearce et al., 2011;

Prowse et al., 2009). Similarly, at the Giant Mine in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, the

stabilization and long-term storage of 237,000 tons of toxic arsenic trioxide waste from decades

of gold mining poses a perpetual care scenario with complex technical and financial dimensions;

nevertheless, the environmental hazard posed by arsenic exposures is borne by the local

community (Sandlos and Keeling, 2012b). The critical question remains: how do local

communities and/or national authorities address the legacy effects of resource exploitation that

appear distant in time and space from the original development?

The problem of managing the cross-scale effects of development legacies such as the

Giant Mine is further reflected in a third key challenge, that of environmental remediation and

resource (re)development at legacy sites. The cyclical and volatile nature of Arctic resource

economies means that particular resource sites may be subject to sudden closure and

abandonment, often leaving behind considerable environmental problems (Keeling 2010). The

environmental legacies of former resource sites include contemporary responses to their impacts,

including cleanup of abandoned/contaminated sites. Although there is a thriving technical

literature on environmental remediation in the Arctic (Jorgensen et al., 2003; Olsen, 2001; Udd

and Bekkers, 2003; Udd and Keen, 1998), the related political and socio-economic questions

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remain poorly documented. Indeed, the scope of the remediation challenges in the Arctic is not

well understood: inventories of abandoned mines, exploration sites, and toxic hotspots have

appeared (Mackasey, 2000, Worrall et al., 2009, Alaska Department of Natural Resources,

2012), but a better sense of the national and circumpolar scope of the problem is needed (AMAP

1997, 2002). Beyond the technical challenges of environmental remediation in the Arctic, for

local communities (particularly Indigenous communities), the remediation of abandoned or toxic

sites often revive the historical conflicts and sense of injustice associated with the original

development and its environmental impacts (Keeling and Sandlos, 2009). The incorporation of

local knowledge and participation in remediation policy and practice, particularly involving

Indigenous people, represents an important but understudied aspect of this issue (Assembly of

First Nations, 2001; McBeath and Shepro, 2007; NOAMI, 2003; Sistili et al., 2006). As

discussed above, our understanding of the legacies of large-scale development would benefit

from the systematic documentation of traditional/local environmental knowledge of these

legacies, and insights into their management. Too often TEK is understood only in terms of

knowledge of natural processes; however, it is just as useful for understanding the long-term

implications of anthropogenic change and evaluating the goals and practices of remediation.

Alongside remediation, redevelopment may bring new life to formerly derelict or

degraded resource landscapes in the Arctic. Public and private expenditures on remediation

represent a significant form of economic activity at these sites, while rising commodity prices

have in recent years attracted capital investment to former resource sites that had been

considered exhausted or uneconomic (Bouw and Ebner, 2011). A remarkable example is the

Keno Hill mine in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where a company contracted to conduct

remediation activities at an abandoned silver mine complex is now simultaneously undertaking

renewed mining activity. These activities have reanimated an abandoned company town and a

nearby satellite settlement, but (as one of the authors found during a recent visit) have also

created conflict with the remnant local population in the area. Whether subject to remediation,

redevelopment or both, these reanimated “zombie” resource sites raise a series of interesting

conceptual questions around the categories of waste and value at abandoned sites, as well as a

series of important research questions concerning the legacies of past development, including:

What are the socioecological implications of renewed disturbance/development activities at

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resource sites? What are the environmental conflicts and challenges engendered by restoration

and/or remediation activities? What are the best practices and policy mechanisms of cleaning up

Arctic developments? How might these activities positively/negatively interact with other

resources and local communities?

The existing literature on resource development, environment and communities in the

Arctic suggests several potential frameworks for tackling these critical issues related to

environmental legacies. First, taking a concept from practices in environmental assessment (see

Noble, this volume), the analysis of cumulative effects of resource development may provide a

framework for exploring the intersections of current and proposed projects with the existing

environmental and social legacies of development. The practice of Cumulative Effects

Assessment and Management, now just “growing out of its infancy” (Canter and Ross, 2010,

267), typically aims at the assessment and monitoring of multiple development projects at a

resource site and/or at the regional scale, and their projected impacts on Valued Ecosystem and

Socio-economic Components such as wildlife (eg., Walker et al., 1997, Johnson et. al., 2005,

Spaling et al., 2000). Although typically focused on immanent and/or future development

patterns and impacts, the notion of cumulative effects might be extended backwards in time, to

account for the socio-ecological legacies of past development at resource sites (such as the

“zombie mines” or abandoned sites noted above). This is not to suggest researchers simply

replicate existing or proposed cumulative effects monitoring practices for the Arctic; rather, the

concept of cumulative effects itself may be critically evaluated and applied to understanding the

social and ecological legacies of past development and their implications for present and future

development. In doing so, it will be critical to incorporate not only those metrics and indicators

of physical environmental changes typically used in environmental assessment, but also analysis

of the cumulative socio-cultural impacts of resource development and landscape change on local

communities (Ehrlich, 2010; Klein, 2000).

One compelling model of the interdisciplinary investigation of cumulative past, current

and future effects of large-scale development is the research undertaken in the Yamal-Nenets

region under the Environmental and Social Impacts of Industrial Development in Northern

Russia (ENSINOR) project. Combining quantitative ecological studies of environmental impact

and change related to oil and gas developments in the region with qualitative research involving

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indigenous herders and oil industry workers, this project (and its successor studies) have

provided important insights into the how “historical experience and current Nenets agency could

serve as a stable basis to continue the decades-old co-existence of industrial development and

nomadic pastoralism” (Forbes et al., 2009, 22047; see also Kumpala et al., 2011; Stammler,

2005). Notably, this collaborative research also resulted in the crafting and adoption by

representatives of industry, local authorities, herders and researchers of a “declaration of

coexistence” outlining in general the terms of social and environmental co-operation in the

region (“Declaration…,” 2007). Such interdisciplinary and collaborative explorations of the

cumulative environmental legacies of development would doubtless contribute significantly to

the understanding of their complex effects in other regions, such as Northern Alaska or the

mining regions of the Northwest Territories.

A similar interdisciplinary exploration of cumulative, long-term environmental legacies

was undertaken by the LASHIPA (Large-Scale Historical Exploitation of Polar Areas) Project,

which deployed geographers, historians and archaeologists in an investigation of whaling,

mining, and other historical resource developments in the far North and South Atlantic Ocean.

For instance, the LASHIPA team effectively connected material landscape change (including

human settlements and environmental impacts) at resource sites on Svalbard (Spitsbergen) with

an analysis of the political economy of development, colonial and geopolitical strategies, and far-

flung networks of actors and technologies (though crucially, not local indigenous populations)

(Hacquebord, 2012). The LASHIPA project’s approach (and other recent work) points to the

fruitful possibilities of comparative studies of environmental legacies in the circumpolar Arctic

(cf. Espiritu, 1997; Midgley, 2012). Whereas in North America and Fennoscandia, private capital

provided the major impetus for extractive development (though often with the collaboration of

the national state), Soviet Arctic development was centrally planned and directed. Nevertheless,

even in the West, resource governance arrangements were not the same for all resources: mineral

and energy developments, for instance, tended to be privately driven, while renewable resources

such as wildlife and fisheries featured a much larger state role in conservation and management.

There are important opportunities to compare and contrast the legacies of “resources under

regimes” (Josephson, 2004) in the Arctic, to understand the varieties of environmental practices

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and impacts associated with different blends of state-, capitalist-, and locally-driven resource

uses (Feinup-Riordan, 2000; Fondahl, 1997; Widget and Balaleva, 1998).

As the work of the ENSINOR project in particular suggests, given the deep

interconnections between the Arctic environment and the society, culture and well-being of

northern people, perspectives on the vulnerability and resilience of socioecological systems

could provide important insights into how local communities have coped or are coping with the

legacies of development (Forbes et. al., 2009; Chapin III et al., 2004; Stammler, 2002, 2005).

This framework links questions of anthropogenic environmental change with questions of

local/indigenous knowledge, socio-cultural adjustment, and adaptation to change (for instance,

by highlighting changing uses of post-industrial landscapes). While attempts to model adaptation

and vulnerability conditions may be of dubious utility in the widely varying and dynamic

contexts of Arctic communities and environments (cf. Robards and Alessa, 2004), there are

nevertheless potential insights to gain from the elaboration of these concepts in the literature on

environmental change. As Nuttall observes, historical research on resource development can

provide “greater understanding of the vulnerability of small-scale societies and whether peoples

have developed successful adaptative [sic] strategies to meet social, economic, political and

environmental challenges as the global economy ebbs and flows” (Nuttall, 2000, 402). In

engaging with concepts such as resilience and adaptation, however, it is vitally important to

inject the critical perspectives of Cameron and others whose critiques highlight their potential

“exclusion of the social, cultural, political, economic, and historical geographies of colonialism,

and particularly the ways in which colonial formations in the region interweave with both past

and present interests in securing natural resources,” (2012, 109) as well as their tendency (as

discussed above) to problematically contain Indigenous knowledge and agency to the scale of the

local (Perramond 2007; Thompson et. al. 2006).

As Cameron suggests, by fitting the legacies of environmental change into broader

critical frameworks, we can begin to better understand how these legacies are related to

processes of socioecological change at different scales. Recent popular and scholarly work on the

historical political economy of the Arctic highlights the intersection of “local” environmental

changes in the region with global-scale processes such as colonial expansion and capitalist

resource exploitation, from whaling to the fur trade to energy resources (Avango et al., 2011;

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Cameron, 2011; Emmerson, 2010; Nuttall, 2010). The legacies of these earlier rounds of

resource development, both social and environmental, not only persist in the region today, but in

many ways helped create the conditions for contemporary and future development, both

materially (for instance, through colonial territorial expansion, (re)settlement, and infrastructure

development [Sandlos and Keeling 2012a]) and ideologically (through the reinforcement of the

notion of the Arctic as a resource frontier [Coates, 1985; Nuttall, 2010]). Leigh Johnson has

provocatively dubbed role of historic anthropogenic environmental changes (in this case, climate

change) in fostering the conditions for renewed or further Arctic resource development as

“accumulation by degradation” (2010). While questionable as a strategy per se of resource

appropriation, this framing highlights something of the complex intersection of environmental

degradation and redevelopment characteristic of some legacy sites such as the zombie mines

noted above, and the global political economy of resource development.

These critical insights point to a further promising set of connections and avenues of

investigation surrounding the “materiality” and “ongoingness” of resource development impacts,

both at resource sites and beyond (cf. Lepawsky and Mather, 2011). Recent scholarship on the

geographies and political ecology of resource development seeks to question not only the taken-

for-granted status of nature as a “resource,” but also the suite of material flows and connections

surrounding resource and energy developments, including the complex metabolism of waste,

energy and ecological processes at resources sites and beyond (Bakker and Bridge, 2006; Bridge,

2009). By tracing the environmental-historical networks that constitute resources as

commodities—what William Cronon (1992) evocatively describes as “the paths out of town”—

social scientists can better connect the legacies of local environmental degradation and resource

conflicts with socioeconomic and ecological processes at national and global scales, including:

changing patterns of resource demand and consumption, global energy and resource flows,

global environmental change, and the uneven geographical development that constructs the

Arctic as a resource periphery. Nuttall, for instance, suggests a focus on the social anthropology

of pipelines, “including pipelines as complex and interdependent technological, social, economic

and political systems and networks” (2010, 21). Similarly, placing the material resource itself at

the centre of analysis, as Cameron does for copper, may enable a more thorough accounting of

“the complexities and contradictions inherent in relations between various people, places, and

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things.” (2011, 188). Seeing these relations as “ongoing” and extending beyond resource

extraction sites themselves emphasizes the dynamic temporality and spatiality associated with

resource developments and their environmental legacies, even long after a particular

development activity has ceased.

Conclusion

Arturo Escobar states, with respect to Aboriginal people of South America, that

ultimately “the environment is cultural and symbolic construction, and the way it is constructed

has implications for how it is used and managed.” Consequently, he proceeds to ask, “How

would sustainability and conservation look if approached from the perspective of the world

construction of the black groups of the Pacific?” (Escobar, 2008, 120). Analogous questions

formulated with regards to the use of non-renewable resources and economic development in the

Canadian North would certainly merit more attention. In particular, such questions can serve to

bring to the forefront local understandings of environmental and personal health, the impacts of

contaminants or pollution, and the consequences of development on local landscapes and

resources which may reflect Northern experiences of colonialism and marginalization that are

not easily effaced through the provision of more scientific “expertise.” It is crucial that scholars

seek to better understand Aboriginal perspectives on spheres of livelihood that have historically

been restricted to the domain of Westerners. How would industrialism be approached from an

Inuit perspective? What would Indigenous knowledge mobilized towards the practice of

industrial development in the Arctic look like? Is the co-management of non-renewables possible

or desirable? Can the principles of adaptive community co-management be applied to the

assessment and monitoring of large-scale non-renewable resource development projects? What

indicators meaningful to local contexts need to be developed for useful environmental

monitoring? And, more fundamentally, in what ways can industrial development be integrated

into Indigenous practice?

Seeking answers to these questions are a critical first step in determining the potential

benefits of industrial development for Aboriginal people in northern Canada. Considering the

increasing pace of industrial activity throughout the Arctic, the ongoing impacts of current

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developments, the festering legacy issues of abandoned industrial sites and environmental

contamination, and the mounting impacts of climate change, further research on Indigenous co-

management of non-renewable resources may offer northern communities the opportunity for

more political control over the social, economic, and environmental changes that so directly

impact their future. Currently, the ability of indigenous people to influence large-scale

development projects is limited by the confinement of TEK to renewable resource issues and the

imbalance of political power among state, corporate, and indigenous actors within the northern

development triumvirate. Nonetheless, because many Northern Aboriginal communities have

been exposed historically to decades of development ranging from hydroelectric damming, to

mining, hydrocarbon extraction, and militarization, they maintain crucial local knowledge of the

environmental impacts of industrial development and its long-term legacies. Although it may

seem a cliché to speak of approaching development “as if community mattered,” (Ross and

Usher, 1986), more research is needed on the incorporation of these community perspectives as

a foundation for the sustainable management of non-renewable resources and their

environmental legacies in the Arctic.

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