Environmental dispossession refers to processes that reduce Indigenous people’s access to the resources of their traditional lands and resources. Environmental dispossession is a fundamental contributor to loss of Indigenous knowledge by First Nation communities, and the consequences for health have been disastrous. Environmental dispossession can occur in both direct and indirect ways.
Mercury contamination from the pulp and paper industry of the English-Wabigoon River at Grassy Narrows First Nation in the late 1960’s caused major disruption of lifestyle as resident’s ties to the land were severed. Today, the forestry industry places considerable challenges for Grassy Narrows First Nation to use and enjoy the lands and resources of their traditional territory.
Environmental dispossession can occur in less direct ways as well. For over a century, for example, First Nation people were made subject to intense missionary activity, including forced attendance at residential schools. The purpose of these schools was to assimilate First Nation people into the cultural traditions and belief systems of mainstream Canada. These assimilationist activities significantly undermined Indigenous knowledge, as they forbade parents and grandparents from sharing their spiritual and cultural practices with their children, and significantly reduced children’s ties to the land.