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Oil Sands Extraction in Alberta, Canada: a Review of Impacts and Processes Concerning Indigenous Peoples


We review literature about Canada’s oil sands, pertaining to Indigenous Peoples. We draw on a range of recent published and unpublished sources. We find that social science research on oil sands extraction has been inadequate, even as the region has undergone transformation. Available research suggests that Indigenous communities feel resigned to further loss of their subsistence landbase. Due to the rapid pace of expansion, emergent issues and questions exist that cannot be readily synthesized. Decision-makers are not specialists in Indigenous issues or social impacts, and are not always supported by experts within their organizations. There is a need to review the qualifications of some social science consultants who work on impact assessment and consultation. The most vulnerable Indigenous people and communities face worrying health risks and evident pollution as they lose access to special places and preferred sources of food and water, entailing loss of cultural, spiritual, and familial connections.

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We extend our gratitude for library and archival support provided by Bigstone Cree Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Government of Alberta, Athabasca University, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Saskatchewan. We thank Josie Auger, Janelle Baker, Jesse Cardinal, Melanie Dene, Patricia McCormack, Joanne Muzak, Mary Richardson, Glenn Stuart, Jim Waldram, and Katherine Wheatley for their comments on this draft and a previous draft. We also acknowledge comments from an anonymous reviewer. This research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This article contains excerpts from a larger report (Joly and Westman 2017).


This study was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (grant number 872–2016-004).

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Correspondence to Clinton N. Westman.

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Tara Joly works for Willow Springs Strategic Solutions Inc., a consulting firm with clients including the Fort McMurray Métis. Westman has worked for Mikisew Cree First Nation, Woodland Cree First Nation, and for the Government of Canada.

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Westman, C.N., Joly, T.L. Oil Sands Extraction in Alberta, Canada: a Review of Impacts and Processes Concerning Indigenous Peoples. Hum Ecol 47, 233–243 (2019).

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