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Canadian National Forest Strategy

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 economy.

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 Northern Quebec.

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 identity.

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 rights.

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 students.

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 factors.

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 management:

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 lands:

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.

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