Caribou or 2x4s? The Waswanipi Cree fight for their Boreal Forest

by ferrise on October 7, 2016 - 8:28am

               The article I chose focuses on a hotly debated issue in many parts of Canada, namely natural resource extraction and the impact on Aboriginal land rights. More specifically, this article chronicled the Waswanipi Cree’s fight to protect one of Québec’s last remaining untouched boreal forests, the Broadback Valley Forest, from forestry. The Waswanipi Cree’s territory is located 730 kilometres north of Montreal, and has already felt a heavy presence from the forestry industry, with 90% of their territory already logged or fragmented. The forest is home to several species central to Cree livelihood including the endangered Woodland Caribou, and a major concern regarding development is that wildlife will be driven further away from the Waswanipi territory, to more remote areas that have been less disturbed. This decline of a prominent boreal species has already been noted by members of the community and if the trend continues would bring devastating effects on the Cree way of life and a dependence on hunting. While the Cree community made it clear in the article that they do not oppose development or logging, they are concerned about the extent of logging road creation in their territory and are demanding some sort of protection of their traditional rights. As it currently stands the proposed forestry projects in the area are under review with an independent government agency, who will present recommendations to Québec’s Minister of sustainable development.   

              Unfortunately, this is a situation all too familiar to aboriginal Canadians living in resource rich areas across the country, and solutions that please all parties involved seem impossible. As is the case here, conflict between the stakeholders was somewhat inevitable. Each involved party has different end goals for the region, different world-views and values, different opinions about who should benefit and bear the costs, and the list goes on….The primary conflict outlined in the article seems to be that the Waswanipi Cree place huge cultural importance on the boreal forest, a natural area that would be adversely impacted by the proposed forestry projects. In contrast, the government and forest companies see the area as potential source of financial gain, and to not pursue development in the boreal forest would constitute a preventable economic loss. While this may appear to be just another isolated conflict that needs to be resolved, the occurrence of issues similar to what is happening in the Broadback Valley Forest suggests that there is something rooted far deeper in the Canadian identity. In my opinion what cannot be forgotten, but often is, is that Canada is a “settler society,” and was founded as a source of resources and staples for Europe and other developed regions. In this early pursuit of dominance over the land by settlers, aboriginals found themselves displaced from traditional territories. This notion is still very apparent today as the export of natural resources continues to be fundamental in ensuring Canada’s economic vigor and stability, sometimes at the expense of aboriginal rights. While there is undoubtedly concern over whether an over-reliance on natural resource extraction could have detrimental impacts on the environment and also lead to long-term economic vulnerability, I strongly believe that our country must accept and find solutions to mitigate and manage negative effects along the way. With respect to taking aboriginal land rights into consideration, I think that including aboriginal groups and leaders in natural resource management decisions offers a hopeful path for resolving land disputes that are all too common in Canada right now. It is clear that current measures and policies in place pay inadequate respect to aboriginal rights, and result in the continued assimilation of aboriginal groups and the exploitation of their land. In beginning the reconciliation process by respecting something as central to the aboriginal way of life as the land, trust between the Canadian government and aboriginal groups can hopefully be rebuilt. The conflict in the Broadback Valley Forest is a small part of a much larger issue in the Canada and one that can no longer be ignored. If natural resource extraction is to continue as an economic driver for Canada, aboriginal people must be included in the decision making process.

 

Bernstien, J. (2016, January 26). Waswanipi Cree demand virgin forest, caribou be protected from logging. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/waswanipi-forest-roads-threaten-caribou-1.3418531

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5:00 Radio/Podcast
Title: “The Uncertain Future of Canada's Boreal Forests”

ANNCR:
From SUNY College at Brockport, you're listening to Mat Johnson. Today is November second, and we'll be discussing an issue pertaining to our neighbors in the North, Canada's Boreal Forest. The Boreal Forest, south of the Arctic Tundra, is enormous, taking up over half of Canada's land mass. It spans from coast to coast and is largely intact. However, ecological and cultural issues are arising in some parts.

The Boreal Forest is home to a great amount of biodiversity, centered around a dense and sprawling forest made up of predominantly coniferous trees. Generally, deforestation from logging can become a common concern for similar ecosystems. Ellen Ferris is a biology student at Guelph University, and when researching the Boreal Forest for a class assignment, she found that the term deforestation is used when trees are cleared away permanently so land can be repurposed. She reported that trees are being replanted and areas are being left alone in order to regrow, preventing deforestation by logging. The main culprit for deforestation is actually agricultural development.

Resource extraction can also lead to deforestation. Another Guelph University biology student researching the same topic, Hannah MacDonald, discovered that in Alberta, over 80 thousand square miles of the Boreal Forest overlaps with a large deposit area of oil sand. The oil sand is being mined as an energy resource. The Boreal Forest is massive, so using a small percentage of land for natural resource extraction seems reasonable, considering how vital the mining is to the Canadian economy.

Another staple in the Canadian economy is the pulpwood industry, which is concentrated in Québec's Boreal Forest. In an article for Business Insider, Simone Scully tells us that Canada is one of the world's leaders in pulpwood products, like paper and tissues. One of the Cree First Nation communities in central Québec is growing concerned by forestry practices associated with the pulpwood industry. Christopher Herodier and Jaime Little reported on a related story for CBC news on October 29th. The headline stated: “Waswanipi leader lobbies fashion companies to save boreal forest.” They detailed how the Waswanipi's deputy chief, Mandy Gull, spoke to 81 different clothing companies that met in New York City. Some companies use wood pulp when making jeans and tee-shirts, which Gull didn't know until she was asked to speak at the event. Gull persuaded 68 companies, including H&M, to commit to stop sourcing materials from endangered forests. Only 10 percent of the Waswanipi's lands are untouched by logging. The unaffected land, the Broadback Valley forest, has previously been protected by environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

In January of this year, Jaela Bernstein, with CBC news, reported that the Waswanipi Cree were trying to save the local threatened Woodland Caribou population, in an article titled “Waswanipi Cree demand virgin forest, caribou be protected from logging.” She wrote about how Waswanipi Chief Marcel Happyjack argued that preventing developers from building roads through the Broadback Valley forest would help maintain caribou populations, preserving the ecosystem. The caribou will likely move on without large, intact areas of forest. A failing ecosystem would devastate the Waswanipi Cree's way of life. They depend largely on hunting, trapping and fishing.

The Waswanipi Cree are not the only Indigenous group fighting to protect their lands. An entry by Jeff Wells in National Geographic's Water Currents blog from August 26th, two thousand sixteen, delves deeper into this topic. He explains how the Anishinaabe (Anishi-NAH-bee) people of the Poplar River First Nation in Manitoba refer to the surrounding Boreal Forest as Pimachiowin Aki (Pim–MATCH–cho–win Ahh–KEY), which means “the land that gives life.” This particular area of the forest is seemingly untouched by logging and other developments. The Anishinaabe people have been trying to turn a portion of the Boreal Forest into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They have cared for the Boreal Forest for over six thousand years, and they're not planning on stopping anytime soon.

These are only a few of the cultural and ecological issues revolving around the Boreal Forest, but in order to reach an agreement, everyone needs to communicate. The Waswanipi Cree support forestry practices, but they also want the government to hear them out when making decisions that affect them. Their number one concern is that endangered or threatened populations like Woodland caribou aren't damaged beyond repair. The Canadian government is making some steps towards improving environmental conservation.

Many mammals, birds, and other species are affected by the forestry and energy industries. However, Canada is reliant on revenue streams from the Boreal Forest's wealth of natural resources. What is more important—protecting unadulterated lands for Indigenous communities, or making sure that Canada's economy remains stable? (SLIGHT PAUSE) This issue may never be fully resolved. (PAUSE).

If you want to learn more about Canada's forests, check out w-w-w-dot-n-r-c-a-n-dot-g-c-dot-c-a-slash-forests. I would like to thank the Guelph University biology students that served as experts on this topic. This is Mat Johnson, from SUNY College at Brockport. Thank's for listening.

Hey Matt,

I loved your script. The addition on the "pauses" at the end was hilarious. I think you did a great job of compiling the experiences of several first nations communities to really encompass how similar and pressing the issues are. It is alarming to me how many first nation communities having to fight to protect natural land. I am also interested in the ecological implications of decreasing caribou. How it would the decrease of the caribou population effect the ecosystem? As well, how would those ecological implications effect the first nation communities?

Hey Mat,
Great podcast script, its evident that you did a lot of research and got in contact with some informative University of Guelph students. What I really enjoyed about your script in particular was the focus you placed on aboriginals and their perspective on the encroachment of the pulpwood industry onto their lands such as in central Quebec where the pulpwood industry threatens land that the Waswanipi Cree depend on. Often the media ignores aboriginal perspectives but this article really illustrates that value conflict between aboriginals who want to protect their land so they can continue to hunt and live off it and the government and industries that want to use it to get natural resources. Canada's history as a staples economy has created economic reliance on natural resources that often clashes with aboriginal need for a healthy, safe, and functional environment to live off of to enjoy the way of life they've been living way before Canada even became a country. This truly is an issue that will likely never be resolved but, with better communication via proper consultation with aboriginal groups before implementation of resource development plans, hopefully these two parties can come to a compromise. You really did a great job of highlighting a key issue in Canadian resource management. Thank you.

I wasn't originally going to write about the aboriginal perspective, I was going to focus more on an overview of natural resource extraction and dependence. However, when I researched more and more, it became apparent that there were strong cultural opinions being voiced, so it drew my attention. I didn't have much of a knowledge base on indigenous people in Canada, so I decided to delve further into something I didn't know. I really hope that compromises can be made with these issues with the Boreal Forest.

Thank you for the feedback!

Good afternoon Mat,

I would like to start off by saying excellent job on the script you came up with. Including research and information from the University of Guelph made it very enjoyable to read, and it strengthened your arguments. The boreal forest is not only a home to wildlife, it is also a home to the aboriginals that require these forests for their livelihoods. Due to Canada's history as a staples economy, the boreal forest has taken a back seat while we focused more on exports and economic growth. With that said, Canada’s boreal forest has been largely altered and the impacts are significant. Like you included in your podcast script, the Waswanipi Cree suffered significantly due to the pulpwood industry. This is due to a conflict of value, that is created by the differing viewpoints of aboriginals and government. Your script highlighted these issues, and it is evident that the land means much more than just profit and resources to the Waswanipi Cree. The Canadian government has become reliant on exports, which is negatively effecting the aboriginals, environment and the wildlife. Personally, I would like to see this issue get resolved but it is unlikely that the government and aboriginals can come to an agreement. Resource management is a very difficult task to accomplish, and your podcast script outlines some of the main difficulties associated with this task. Very well done!

Until I read your response, I had never encountered the term "staples economy," so it caused me to research the economic Staples theory in regards to Canada. I was very interested in learning about this, especially after starting this research into the Boreal Forest. I agree with you that it does seem unlikely that the government and aboriginals will resolve their issues, but at least when everyone recognizes that there ARE problems, they can be looked at through a more critical lens.

Thank you for your feedback!

Mat great transcript!! It was really fun to see your final product after discussing the assignment and some of your questions about the Boreal forest over email. The flow throughout the transcript is evident of your hard work and clear grasp of the issues currently facing the Boreal forest. I think your point about the overlap between oil extraction and the Boreal forest is one of particular interest to many Canadians, and perhaps a point of concern for many…While it may seem like a relatively small loss of untouched forest for an oil sands project or two, it perhaps represents something larger in the Canadian landscape. Which is the increasing valuation of economic growth over environmental protection and the rights of Aboriginal communities, as you mention later in your transcript. The Canadian Boreal forest is much more of a complicated place than it appears, with MANY interest groups trying to lay claim! It will definitely be very interesting to see how this region across Canada is or is not developed in the future.
Thank you for bringing attention to some of the large issues currently facing the Canadian Boreal Forest, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your transcript!

I agree wholeheartedly that the Canadian Boreal Forest is certainly more complicated than at first glance. When I first chose the topic, I was planning on writing about deforestation and natural resource extraction. After I read your blog post about the article you read about the Waswanipi Cree, it changed my focus and really helped me figure out what I was going to do for my podcast script.

Thank you so much for your help with the assignment, and thanks for your feedback!

Hi Mat!

Great transcript! I really enjoyed how you briefly touched on multiple issues that involve the boreal forest. It’s impressive how you manage to accurately explain multiple issues and their related cause in such a short period of time. As an environment and resource management student, I have become familiar with these issues through my studies.

Due to my awareness of these issues, you have drawn my attention to the section on the oil sands in Alberta. In particular, your thoughts on how “this resource extract is reasonable, considering how vital the mining industry is to the Canadian economy,” were interesting to me. Yes, the oil sands operations take up a small portion of the boreal forest, but they also negatively effect ecosystems that are hundreds of miles away from the actual sites. I do understand that you would have had a length limit of your transcript, however there are many more important factors involved with the oil sands and I believe it is best to view the issue from all perspectives. Some perspectives include indigenous peoples, ecological and environmental views as well as economic views just to name a few. A helpful website I’ve found briefly explains the importance of all the related oil sands impacts, should you be interested.

Overall, very informative and enjoyable podcast!

http://www.oilsandstruth.org/

I am so happy that you noticed that I left out a more developed analysis of the impact of the oil sands development. The one part of my transcript that you commented on, specifically: "...using a small percentage of land for natural resource extraction SEEMS reasonable" was written as an introduction to a paragraph about the pros and cons of the mining industry. I had to cut that section for time (my podcast went way longer than it was supposed to), but I made the decision to leave the word "seems" in there, to try to portray the idea that it's not exactly what it might appear to be. I wish I'd had more time to further develop the ideas. Thinking back, I probably should have cut out any mention of the oil sand industry altogether, due to the lack of time to properly express all sides of the issue.

Thank you so much for your feedback! I appreciate it.