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Clear-cutting Culture PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Friday, 30 January 2004 14:45
Story by Jodi Di Menna

An Ojibwa woman from Superior's northern shore wraps her newborn daughter in the skin of a rabbit and diapers her with sphagnum moss collected from the forest floor. A young Algonquian deer hunter draws a bow carved from the wood of a birch tree; his family gathers berries from the understory. For thousands of years Canadian First Nations have relied o­n the boreal forest for food, shelter and culture. But in the age of industrial forestry, the way in which First Nations groups inhabit the boreal is changing.

From Canadian Geographic 
http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/jf04/indepth/anthropology.asp

Clear-cutting culture
First Nations groups struggle to maintain their identity and relationship with the land in the boreal's changing economic environment

Story by Jodi Di Menna

An Ojibwa woman from Superior's northern shore wraps her newborn daughter in the skin of a rabbit and diapers her with sphagnum moss collected from the forest floor. A young Algonquian deer hunter draws a bow carved from the wood of a birch tree; his family gathers berries from the understory. For thousands of years Canadian First Nations have relied o­n the boreal forest for food, shelter and culture. But in the age of industrial forestry, the way in which First Nations groups inhabit the boreal is changing.

"We've always been involved in forestry in o­ne way or another," says Harry Bombay, executive director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association and a member of the Rainy River First Nation in northwestern o­ntario. "If you take forestry in its broadest interpretation, we've been foresters for centuries. But in the last 10 years or so we've become involved in a different kind of way - more as forest managers and as owner/operators of aboriginal owned businesses."

There are currently some 1,000 First Nations-owned forestry groups operating in the Canadian boreal. These range from single-person operations to large-scale developers, such as Little Red River Forestry Ltd., operated by the Cree nation in Alberta, which employs hundreds of people. About 15,000 aboriginal people in Canada make their living in forestry and logging.

Despite this trend toward aboriginal involvement in forestry, a recent report from Global Forest Watch Canada found that aboriginal communities within forest regions tend to have significantly lower average incomes, employment rates and education levels than aboriginal communities outside the forest region. This raises questions about the distribution of benefits from logging and other developments within the boreal. "There are a lot of obstacles yet in our way for our participation in forestry," says Bombay.

"It's about achieving true sustainable forest management. It's the o­nly way we can preserve our knowledge systems and maintain a relationship with the land and drive economic benefits which meet both traditional and contemporary economic needs."

Native populations and cultures were established in the boreal between 20,000 and 5,000 years ago. During the fur-trade years of 1670 to 1870, European influence came in the form of forestry activities in the southern boreal, as demand for lumber and the depletion of forest increased in the south and east. With about 1 million people in 600 communities across the country, the boreal is home to 80 percent of First Nations people in Canada, including Cree, Innu, Metis, Dene, Gwich'in, and Athabascan.

Most aboriginal people today regard the forest as critical to their cultural survival and their ability to maintain their identity as indigenous people. For this reason, becoming more involved in commercial forestry management is critical to First Nations groups. "We have a lot at stake in the sense that our livelihoods are in danger," says Bombay. "The cultural aspects of our lives are threatened."

To create your own maps of Canada, go to The Global Forest Watch's website
       

Last Updated on Friday, 30 January 2004 14:45
 

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