Staples theory, oil, and indigenous alternative development in the Northwest Territories




Bush, Donna

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Staples theory has been used as a framework to explain the historical establishment and political economy of Canada and other “new” countries, based on the concept that Canada has been and continues to be built on an economy of resource extraction. The theory has been applied on both a macro and a micro scale to regions of Canada that have specialized in the extraction of cod, wheat, fur, and oil and gas. Two foundational academics of staples theory, Harold A. Innis and Mel Watkins, spent time in the northern region of Canada now known as the Northwest Territories (NWT) and, among other researchers, applied a staples approach to various periods of the region’s economic development. The application of staples theory in northern Canada, however, is problematic, particularly in view of the territory’s predominantly Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis population. A staples framework tends to ignore, or underplay, a fundamental reality in the NWT: the original political economy of the region was based on Indigenous values of communal trading and sharing in a subsistence economy. Most importantly, the Indigenous economy was controlled and distributed by the Indigenous people as they lived on, and carefully managed, the land and resources of the North. A theoretical approach that centers on the extraction and commodification of resources in the North by white traders and settlers who take over the land, obscures the critical questions of who owns and cares for the land and how it is ‘developed’.



Staples theory, Northwest Territories, oil, Norman Wells, Indigenous