Many of Canada's native Indian and Inuit commumties are located in northern areas experiencing increasing pressures for resource extraction. Various analyses of the probable conse quences of major northern projects have disclosed fundamental conflicts between the hinterland native population and Canada's majority society, as represented by metropolitan business and government interests. These conflicts derive in part from disagreements over resource ownership and the proper beneficiaries of economic rents, as well as from widely disparate social values placed on the resource base. In this article we review the historical evolution of social impact assessment (SIA) as it has developed in response to such resource related conflicts. Then we go on to propose a general conceptual model of social and economic relations which could help provide a more adequate theoretical basis for SIA practice. While the approach suggested here focuses on the needs of native Canadian communities, it may also be relevant for other fourth world peoples and regional minorities.