Traditional knowledge of mineral resources and their implications in Canadian law

Andrew M. Miller

Although most definitions of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) consider local peoples’ engagements with both living and non-living environmental constituents, far greater effort has been expended documenting human interactions with biotic members of environments rather than abiotic members.  Indigenous peoples of North America have well-documented engagements in mining, using and trading geologic resources thousands of years prior to arrival of European colonizers.  Using archeology, linguistics, oral traditions, ethnographic and history literatures, this paper explores Indigenous engagements with stone, mineral, metal and other resources as expressions in utilitarian, economic and cultural practices.  In Canada, legal recognition of TEK has supported Indigenous claims to territorial title and access to resources. I examine Canadian legal precedents that suggest Indigenous peoples may have unrecognized subsurface rights to minerals.  The importance of minerals to the Canadian economy and Indigenous community development, cultures and wellbeing suggests that understanding Indigenous relationships to minerals merits greater attention from ethnoecologists.