Working together to protect Indigenous medicinal plants

Canada’s transmission pipeline companies have close relationships with Indigenous communities across the country. Many First Nations have formed unique and mutually beneficial partnerships with the companies that operate on their traditional lands.

Crossing traditional lands


One of those partnerships was formed when Pembina Pipeline Corporation embarked on a project in northern Alberta. It involved building two new parallel pipelines between facilities in the Fox Creek area. The new pipelines needed to cross Driftpile First Nation’s (DFN) traditional land, which had long been used for camping, hunting and harvesting plants for ceremonial and medicinal purposes.

Reducing potential impacts to the land, plants and other species is always a critical component of any new project. In this case, DFN had some concerns with how the lands would be restored to their traditional use after the pipeline was built. That’s where a unique partnership was born.


Monitoring regrowth


Pembina worked with community members, including harvesters and elders, to choose three sites that would be monitored over five years following construction. The three chosen sites included gathering areas for harvesting wild raisins, bunchberries, Labrador tea and yarrow—all of traditional significance to DFN.

In the first year following construction, the group visited the sites to see what was starting to grow back. Elders identified several plant species, including wild raisins, wild cranberry, Labrador tea and chaga mushroom, which are used by Indigenous communities as traditional medicines.

During the second assessment in 2020, even more plant species were identified including blueberry, devil’s club and conk fungus. Some of the species hadn’t been seen there before the pipeline was built.


On the right track


As the partnership heads into its third year, members of DFN say they are pleased with the results so far.

“Driftpile is happy with the natural revegetation progress,” said Victor Prinz, DFN environment monitor. “Although the right-of-way is still in the early stages of restoration, the selected sites are on the positive trajectory for natural native vegetation regrowth.”

Members of Pembina’s team agree that it has been a positive experience.

“We were fortunate to work with DFN in developing this plan,” says Irfana Qureshi, Environmental Specialist. “In my role as Environmental Specialist, I was particularly excited about the component of the plan that committed to training six and hiring four Aboriginal environmental trainees to support the environmental work during construction.”

Every year, the results of the assessment are compiled into a report and shared with the Alberta Energy Regulator, allowing Pembina to show that its natural revegetation approach works. The process will wrap up in 2023.


Building mutually beneficial relationships


Projects like this help to show the importance of building mutually beneficial relationships between pipeline companies and Indigenous communities. This is a priority for members of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).

The partnership between Pembina and DFN demonstrates how CEPA members are committed to protecting sensitive land and plants while also building critical infrastructure needed to deliver Canada’s energy in the safest and most responsible way.