Accepted Paper:

Trails and Roads: dialectics between Métis and oil company movements in a muskeg environment  


Tara Joly (University of Northern British Columbia)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper describes entangled route-making practices of Métis people and oil companies. I argue that Métis trappers preserve and renew connections to their homelands by maintaining ancestral trails and responding to new extraction-related lines on the land - a process mediated by muskeg.

Paper long abstract:

In northern Alberta, Canada, walking along and cutting trails form the basis of constructing and maintaining Indigenous cultural landscapes. In the last century, many Indigenous trails - which are often part of ancestral traplines - have either grown over due to fire suppression or have become shared with oil companies. Oil companies sometimes convert these trails into winter roads which support speed and movement of heavy equipment used for oil exploration or extraction. Conversely, some Métis trappers use cutlines created by company contractors to travel, set traps, hunt, and gather plants. This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork with the Fort McMurray Métis community, and centres on an Elder's argument that the prevalence of muskeg (boreal peatlands) in northern Alberta prohibited settler-industrial development until methods of road construction overcame these wet environments. I compare Métis and state-sponsored narratives of movement along routes (e.g., trails and roads) in oral storytelling and written documents, respectively. As an impediment to road construction, muskeg is at the heart of the tensions between different routes and the spatial-temporal movements they afford. I contend that road construction is a power-laden activity that affords opening of access to the landscape for oil sands developers and closing of access for Métis individuals. However, Métis trappers maintain connections to their homelands by adapting to and using these new lines on the land where possible. As oil companies and Indigenous communities build and move along lines on the land together, tensions proliferate between speed and slowness, opening and closing.

Panel P027
Lines on the land: mobility and stasis in northern extractive landscapes