Integrating Traditional Knowledge into Reclamation and Closure Plans

  • March 10, 2021

Lakeview from campsite (Okane Archive)

Integrating Traditional Knowledge into Reclamation and Closure Plans

Community, stakeholders and rights holder consultation is imperative for the alignment of mine closure goals for the post closure health of the land. In Canada and many other countries around the world, First Nations and Indigenous communities are at the forefront of mining impacts and should be engaged with meaningful attention and collaboration when planning for closure.

Surprisingly, the application of Traditional Knowledge for closure planning is a relatively new field. How can we, as mine closure practitioners best go about incorporating important Traditional Knowledge into reclamation and closure plans?

Current Regulatory Environment

Generally, closure activities are influenced by a company’s corporate culture, project economics and stakeholder requirements. However, in many cases regulatory requirements are seen to trump all.

The requirements for reclamation and closure are outlined at a regional or national government level and generally through mine permit(s) and during environmental assessments. Requirements for closure vary considerably between countries, with those newer to industrial mining in the process of refining their regulations (Otto, 2010). Requirements for incorporating Indigenous, and First Nations Traditional Knowledge into closure planning can be seen in environmental regulations for countries such as Australia & Canada.

A common misconception across the mining industry is considering First Nations communities as stakeholders only (Joseph, 2014). In many locations, First Nations communities are rights holders, sovereign nations with rights to the land (Brooks, 2013). As companies and countries adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we as mine closure practitioners have the opportunity to engage in much more meaningful collaborations in discussing the future health of land belonging to many.

Returning Land Use Closure Vision

Mine closure planning is a site-specific activity that requires more than technical input from environmental assessments and design studies. Effective closure planning requires the integration of social and cultural values directly from local Indigenous communities to develop more sustainable closure objectives. Sustainable mine closure planning endeavors to minimize, mitigate and eliminate site risk while maximizing returning land use value. We cannot quantify value without including key concerns of the mined land stakeholders and rights holders.

Incorporating Traditional Knowledge

The use of traditional knowledge can help reclamation and closure practitioners better understand plants and animals of a region, and how to sustainably manage local resources (Johnson, 1992). Traditional ecological knowledge is both a detailed description of the environment and the wildlife and broader cultural comments (Wiles et al. 1999). Cultural context help provide detail on social-cultural effects of a project, which includes identification with the land and environment. As many Indigenous communities place great importance and dependency on a healthy environment, any industry that adversely impacts the environment is seen as impacting the well-being and rights of its people.

Many of the difficulties that arise when trying to incorporate Traditional Knowledge can be attributed to the inherent differences between western scientific research and Indigenous values. The styles of communication may strongly differ, but it is our job as closure practitioners to be adaptive in our communication styles.

Sometimes, consultation is treated only as an activity, or task to be done to meet regulatory requirement. Instead, consultation should be a form of collaboration that offers a process for effective communication and strategic problem-solving.

“What’s promoted is ‘consultation’, what participants want is ‘collaboration’ and, what usually occurs is neither.”
– Andrew Baisley, Okane

The terminology ‘consultation’ is perhaps confusing the issue by not meeting expectations and appeal for upfront collaboration. Participants impacted by a proposed change to a mine plan or a closure plan are highly motivated to contribute and form part of the solution. With ‘consultation’, the solution may be predetermined, and the purpose of engagement is to socialise or seek feedback on something that is already in progress or decided. Alternatively, ‘collaboration’ takes place when the solution is not yet known, and a group work together in defining the problem as well as the best way to resolve it.

Okane’s Approach

Okane’s approach for integrating Traditional Knowledge into reclamation and closure plans begins by taking a collaborative approach. While we recognize there is no one size fits all process, these foundational principles should be considered:

  1. Recognize traditional knowledge holders as land rights holders who have a connection to the land, water and animals.
  2. When discussing the vision for closure, listen more – talk less.
  3. Understand communications style differ greatly; you may need to meet Knowledge holders with their style of communication.
  4. Recognize the difference between consultation and collaboration and be upfront with what your intentions are.
  5. Meaningful collaboration takes effort and time, so project schedules should plan to accommodate.
  6. What we as reclamation and closure practitioners see as outcomes, deliverables and work products can be seen as commitments and promises to Traditional Knowledge holders.
  7. Best outcomes are achieved not just by integrating Traditional Knowledge in a reclamation and closure plan, but by creating a plan together.

At the end of the day, we are looking for collective ownership of closure plan and returning land use vision that can be celebrated by all parties involved.



Brooks, C. (2013). Rights Holders , Not Stakeholders. Retrieved June 25, 2015, from

Johnson, M. (1992). Capturing Traditional Environmental Knowledge. Ottawa, ON: IDRC Books.

Joseph, B. (2014). Six “Must Dont’s” for an effective First Nations Engagement Strategy. Retrieved June 25, 2015, from

Otto, J. M. (2010). Mining, Society, and a Sustainable World: Global Trends in Mine Reclamation and Closure Regulation. (J. Richards, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Wiles, A., Mcewen, J., & Sadar, M. H. (1999). Use of traditional ecological knowledge in environmental assessment of uranium mining in the Athabasca Saskatchewan. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 18(2), 107–114.


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