This report explores how Indigenous conceptions of land stewardship can be better harnessed to enhance environmental protections in Alberta. It proceeds in five parts. After providing a brief note on terminology, Part A outlines what is meant by land stewardship in many modern Indigenous communities. Part B considers national and international legal structures by which Indigenous land stewardship interests are advanced. Here, the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult with Indigenous communities is explored, as is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons. In Part C, the report outlines various environmental assessment processes and how governments utilize them as the vehicle by which the duty to consult is satisfied. Part D considers how the duty to consult and environmental assessments interact in practice, with special focus on the restrictions that hinder the integration of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. After considering the existing framework, Part E makes recommendations as to how traditional Indigenous approaches to land may be more effectively used to advance environmental interests in Alberta.

This issue is important and topical. The federal government has recently affirmed its unqualified acceptance to the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Persons, and is currently in the process of re-evaluating its approach to environmental assessments. This is a perfect opportunity to reflect on current processes and reimagine Alberta and Canada’s relationship with Indigenous persons. Over the years, many injustices have occurred in relation to Indigenous peoples, and it is crucial that reconciliation and rectification are continually being pursued. By treating Indigenous communities as partners in land stewardship, governments move towards the goal of reconciliation, while enhancing environmental protections for all Albertans. A refreshed approach benefits all stakeholders. A new perspective can set the stage for cooperative approaches from industry, Indigenous persons, and government, which will permit development to move forward more effectively.

ACLRC would like to thank the United Nations Association of Canada and Canada Green Corps for their contribution to this project.