ABORIGINAL PEOPLE: Issues of Relationship
Aboriginal peoples in Canada have lived within the forest environment for thousands of years. The way they
related to and lived off the resources of the land formed the basis for their societies.
For Aboriginal peoples, the relationship with the land was paramount, and its significance
was reflected in the rules and laws determining social organization, spiritual beliefs and
the allocation of physical resources. Common to the various tribes or nations was the
principle of stewardship of the earth, with attendant responsibilities and obligations
governing individuals, the family and the collective. These rules guided behaviour with
respect to resource access, use, and trade and governed territorial boundaries.
The Aboriginal land ethic is deeply rooted in traditional
cultural beliefs, which hold that land and life should be viewed as a whole, and must be
pro-tected out of respect for past, present and future generations. This is understood to
entail a responsibility for both the natural elements and the well-being of the human
inhabitants of the land. Traditional Aboriginal knowledge has developed, through
experience, to fulfil these responsibilities. Today, participation of Aboriginal peoples
can help to integrate this knowledge and understanding into modern sustainable forest management.
The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity Article 8(j) addresses the respect,
preservation and maintenance of knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and
local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological
diversity, and indicates that signatory states "shall, as far as possible and as
appropriate, encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization
of such knowledge, innovations and practices."
Aboriginal involvement in lands and forests is based on more than
tradi-tional use. The Canadian Constitution recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and
Treaty rights, and Supreme Court decisions have gone some distance in guiding the
definition of these rights and the extent to which they translate into specific legal
interest in the forest. In contemporary terms, Aboriginal peoples see their future to be
inextricably linked to a strengthened relationship with the land and resource-based
Recognition of the implications of the definition, recognition
and exercise of Aboriginal and Treaty rights for forest management, and vice-versa has
been slowly filtering through policy and practical decisions over the past five years.
This awareness has developed at the international level, in the federal government, in
provincial governments, within the forest industry and among individual Aboriginal communities and their neighbours. Much remains to be done to
translate this into forest management regimes and practices. As issues of Aboriginal
self-government, land claims, Aboriginal and Treaty rights in areas of traditional use and
Treaty areas and the responsibilities for Indian lands are resolved, greater certainty
will contribute to increased communication and closer cooperation among governments,
industry and Aboriginal peoples. Resolution of these issues will take time. The Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has, therefore, recommended that interim measures be
taken to use natural resources for Aboriginal economic and cultural development. The
commission also recommends expanding the range of benefits derived from resource
development in areas of traditional use and Treaty areas, in order to achieve a more
equitable distribution of economic benefits from such activities.
Significant change in the social and economic landscape of the
forest is expected to come from several important factors. First, land claims,
treaty-making and Treaty Land Entitlement are ongoing processes which will enlarge the
land base controlled by Aboriginal peoples. Secondly, Aboriginal communities are the
fastest-growing demographic units in rural Canada. More than three-quarters of these
communities are located in productive forest regions. Aboriginal community leaders see
that involvement in the forest sector is vitally important as a source of employment and
revenue generation urgently needed by these growing communities. Thirdly, the Supreme
Court and lower courts have recently provided guidance to help determine the legal
interests of First Nations in forest land and resources.
Within this context of change, better understanding of Aboriginal
issues, rights, and their historical basis by the forest community and by Canadians
generally is desirable. Indeed, greater cooperation among Aboriginal communities, private
forest companies and governments is essential to achieving sustainable forest management.
Understanding will help to identify common
interests and to provide a context in which the parties can work together in new ways for
mutual benefit, for example, the Waswanipi Cree Model Forest established in 1997 in
Already, a new feature of forest management in Canada is the
emergence of partnership arrangements between Aboriginal peoples and the private sector,
as well as with federal, provincial and territorial governments. Over the past five years,
important models for collaboration have emerged. The best of these have featured
leadership by the Aboriginal community, to reflect local circumstances and to respond to
needs defined by the community. Cooperative agreements may result in greater Aboriginal
participation, where relationships are seen to be mutually beneficial.
As Aboriginal communities increase their involvement in the
forest sector, the need for development in various areas arises. Trained workforce, access
to capital, business experience, research capabilities and heightened institutional
capacity are all required, both to undertake management and, in cases, rehabilitation of
reserve forests, and to derive benefits from opportunities in the broader forest sector.
Although this strategic direction focuses on key issues of
relevance to Aboriginal forestry, these are closely linked with the other dimensions of
sustainable forest management outlined in this National Forest Strategy. Sustainable
forest management entails a recognition of these linkages, and their translation into
management policy decisions and practices.
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Aboriginal peoples have an important and integral role in
forest policy development, planning and management. Forest management in Canada, therefore, must recognize and make provision for Aboriginal
and Treaty rights and responsibilities, and respect the values and traditions of
Aboriginal peoples regarding the forests for their livelihood, community and cultural
To address their legitimate needs and aspirations, Aboriginal
communities require greater access to forest resources, and an increased capacity to
benefit from forests in their areas of traditional use and Treaty areas, and to contribute
to their management.
Honourable, fair and timely resolution of land claims, modern
treaties and Aboriginal self-government is necessary in order to create a stable
environment for sustainable forest management.
Framework for Action
We will ensure the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in forest
management and decision-making, consistent with Aboriginal and Treaty rights:
7.1 By implementing processes for
Aboriginal involvement in forest policy development at the provincial and territorial
levels, taking into account initiatives already started and areas where coordination of
new efforts is needed.
7.2 By developing an Aboriginal forest
vision that reflects the shared beliefs, values and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples with
regard to the forest, while respecting regional and ecological diversity.
7.3 By coordinating the data gathering
and reporting activities already carried out by various agencies relevant to Aboriginal
participation in forest management.
7.4 By identifying means by which
traditional knowledge can contribute to sustainable forest management, and by developing
guidelines for defining this knowledge, incorporating it into forest research, management
practices, planning and training, in a manner that respects Article 8(j) of the U.N.
Convention on Biological Diversity.
We will recognize and make provision for Aboriginal and Treaty
rights in sustainable forest management:
7.5 By initiating or continuing, and
where necessary reforming, processes for the discussion of existing legislation and
policies governing the management of forest lands in light of Aboriginal and Treaty
7.6 By implementing policy frameworks to
guide resource managers in understanding Aboriginal and Treaty rights and the resulting
obligations and in ensuring that forest operations and tenure arrangements do not
infringe, without appropriate justification, upon Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and that
the exercise of these rights is consistent with sustainable forest practices.
7.7 By working together to improve
understanding between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of the forest community in matters
of the history behind Aboriginal and Treaty rights, traditional forest values and modern
Aboriginal aspirations and needs, through means such as regional forums, media articles
and resource materials, and seminars to sensitize forest sector managers, workers and
We will increase access to forest resources for Aboriginal
communities to pursue both traditional and economic development activities:
7.8 By improving the access of Aboriginal
peoples to forest resources in areas of traditional use and Treaty areas for sustainable
uses through measures which may include: negotiating agreements with Aboriginal
communities and businesses for access to forest resources, timber and non-timber, through
new and existing forms of tenure; identifying and removing barriers to access at the local
and regional levels; and establishing business partnerships and joint ventures with
existing tenure holders.
7.9 By establishing mechanisms to resolve
overlapping uses in areas of traditional use and Treaty areas.
We will support Aboriginal employment and business development in
the forest sector:
7.10 By completing strategic reviews of
forest-based business opportunities and business models. These reviews will consider
elders' concerns, traditional uses, community values and aspirations, and business
7.11 By encouraging Aboriginal employment
in forestry operations and other forest-based businesses, through developing and
implementing strategies to promote Aboriginal employment; providing training opportunities
to local Aboriginal people; and, publicizing employment opportunities.
7.12 By developing Aboriginal business
capacity, through developing and utilizing new and existing programs for business
training, mentorships, technology transfer and documentation of instructive cases;
developing business support infrastructure; and improving access to capital.
We will increase the capacity of Aboriginal communities,
organizations and individuals to participate in and carry out sustainable forest
7.13 By completing a national human
resources strategy addressing the forest sector education, training and employment needs
of Aboriginal people and implementing this strategy through initiatives such as raising the awareness of young Aboriginals about career opportunities; providing youth with forest employment experiences; and creating educational bridging programs, and research internships.
7.14 By developing an Aboriginal research
agenda to address research issues specific to: sustainable forest management on Indian
Reserve lands; the integration of traditional activities and knowledge into forest
management and related business decision-making both on and off-reserve; and, the
development of Aboriginal research capacity.
7.15 By assisting the Aboriginal
community to strengthen its organizations and institutions so that they can carry out
sustainable forest management.
We will achieve sustainable forest management on Indian Reserve
7.16 By creating an awareness among First
Nation leaders and decision-makers of the importance of sustainable forest land management
in achieving the broader range of social, ecological and economic objectives.
7.17 By designing and implementing
strategies of sufficient scope and duration to assist interested First Nations to
undertake sustainable forest management of Indian Reserve lands, where deemed a priority
by First Nations.
7.18 By reviewing the status of forest
inventories and management plans of Indian Reserve forests and, where required and deemed
a priority by First Nations, developing a strategic plan for updating them; and, by
empowering First Nation governments who so wish, to enforce these plans on reserve.