Community and regulatory concern over the ongoing impacts of historic extractive developments has spurred efforts to clean up abandoned and contaminated sites across the Circumpolar North. Yet, as the environmental legacies of northern development proliferate, questions remain about how successfully local or Indigenous traditional knowledge (TK) has been included in and applied to issues of remediation, reclamation and restoration at former industrial sites. In northern Canada, Indigenous TK has in the last 40 years been formally incorporated into wildlife management and in some cases approval processes for industrial projects, but has less frequently been applied to remediation issues. This paper will focus on the high profile case of the Canadian government’s attempt to remediate arsenic contamination at the former Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories. This abandoned mine contains 237,000 t of arsenic trioxide stored underground adjacent to the city of Yellowknife and the Dene communities of Dettah and Ndilo. While the Giant Mine Remediation Project professed a desire to incorporate TK into the reclamation project, the complex technical nature of the process, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the epistemological basis of Indigenous TK, has prevented anything more than token inclusion of such knowledge. Using transcripts from the recent environmental assessment of the project, we argue that proponents of the remediation project failed to acknowledge that Indigenous TK is not simply a storehouse of scientific data on plants and animals, but is woven together with historical memories of rapid social, economic and environmental changes associated with northern development projects.
Sandlos, J. & Keeling, A. (2016). Aboriginal communities, traditional knowledge, and the environmental legacies of extractive development in Canada. The Extractive Industries and Society, 3, 278–287. doi: 10.1016/j.exis.2015.06.005