Mining PhD student Melanie Mackay presented at the AISES Conference on the topic of First Nations Traditional Uses of Rocks and Minerals – the Beginning of Mining in British Columbia


AISES conference Melanie 1
Dr. Maria Holuszko’s PhD student Melanie Mackay recently attended and presented at the AISES (The American Indian Science and Engineering Society) conference in Vancouver from March 3-5, 2023. The presentation is titled First Nations Traditional Uses of Rocks and Minerals – The Beginning of Mining in British Columbia.

The fifth annual AISES in Canada National Gathering gave Indigenous STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students and professionals an opportunity to gather, connect, and create long-lasting relationships within Canada and across the continent.  About 200 attendees from all over Canada and the United States attended the three-day event. There were activities for high school students, university students, and professionals. Attendees enjoyed several keynote speakers, various sessions, research posters, as well as morning blessings and traditional local food. The annual AISES in Canada National Gathering grows each year, with more interest from attendees as well as partners.

Abstract: First Nations Peoples have been mining/quarrying rocks and minerals for many different uses for thousands of years or since time immemorial. Although dominant western theories imply the opposite, mining isn’t a colonial idea or activity. First Nations had quarry sites that were managed carefully and respectfully, and used the materials from these sites for making tools and in some cases as a trading currency. Through initial literature review and personal communications, we have found that minerals such as quartz, chert, obsidian, native copper and iron, and glacial clays have been used by First Nations for toolmaking and medicinal purposes in the areas we now call British Columbia prior to the arrival of settlers. This study is in an early stage and the full scope of work will include outreach to First Nations communities in British Columbia with the hope of documenting how these communities have used rocks and minerals and managed these resources historically. All literature documenting the use of rocks and minerals by First Nations peoples have been produced by archeologists, however no researcher has approached a study such as this through an engineering and geoscience lens. Because of this, the western science point-of-view often dominates what engineers and geoscientists are taught about rocks, minerals, and mining. In fact, most definitions of the word “ore” are clearly colonial. Perhaps this has led to the “us vs. them” mentality traditionally adopted by mining companies doing business in First Nations traditional territories. By documenting the knowledge, resource management, and science behind First Nations use of rocks and minerals and mining, the hope is to contribute to the decolonization of mining theory.

Tonia Welch and Dr. Maria Holuszko from Mining Engineering are working together with Melanie on this project in collaboration with Chief George Lampreau, Simpcw First Nations.