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The Whitefeather Forest Initiative
“In 2007 the Steering Group of Elders, staff of Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation, and members of our Technical Team, together with staff from the Ministry of Natural Resources who worked with us on our planning were awarded the MNR Gold P.R.I.D.E. award for outstanding achievement in our Community-Based Land Use Planning Process.”
Creative steps towards sustainable forestry in Canada: Combining a First Nations’ traditional expertise with modern development by Bernard Mueller Not far to the South of their lands, the people of the Pikangikum First Nation had seen forest- clearcutting with almost no job-creation for Native persons, with little or no understanding for the negative consequences on the rich animal and plant life. Rather than to sell out and accept that radical short-term procedure, Pikangikum elders and the band council were determined to keep the land in a sustainable way, to create badly needed jobs for their young people. So when I visited Pikangikum seven years ago as a special rapporteur, the First Nation had to fight hard for its independence, to keep its land, its precious Whitefeather forest. It eventually won a court-battle against the Federal Government…To do economic development their way, a systematic, computerized forest inventory was done in cooperation between a cutting edge company and a young motivated team of Pikangikum persons. Included in the mapping was the elders’ traditional knowledge on land and nature, accumulated over generations.Based on that high-quality overview, a democratic process of  land-use planning became possible (see http://www.whitefeatherforest.com/stewardship/our-land-use-strategy). In 2006, the final strategy was approved by the Province of Ontario. Not surprisingly, in view of closing paper-mills and few alternative employment opportunities for Ontario’s North, the province was open both to the necessity to more effective ways of creating jobs and to the environmental concerns of more and more of its citzens.One of the challenges the Pikangikum First Nation (with its Whitefeather Forest Corporation) then had to face were the exact terms of park protection. Both the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and now the proposed Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site project cover parts of the Whitefeather forest.  Between the extremes of total “don’t touch”-protection and unlimited commercial use, the determined First Nation wanted to chart its own particular way, together with its government and environment partners. The challenge being the needed support for that particular balance between customary stewardship and new economic opportunities. What certainly helped was the credibility the First Nation had earned with the quality of their planning work together with the skill of involving important stakeholders outside of the community.The cooperation with scientists of the University of Manitoba was important to change an erroneous negative image of First Nation people. Experienced elders were involved in different research projects, their knowledge proved to be extremely valuable, with environmental organizations having everything to gain from it.   A winning combination: Pikangikum’s traditional experts and the computer mapping team  
Ontario`s Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle: “We are moving into a time when innovation in the forestry sector is so important,” Gravelle said. “What could be more innovative and more significant than having our young First Nations youth being trained with the help and assistance of the Elders from their communities, teaching them from an indigenous point of view about forest stewardship.” Gravelle said the program will provide the youth with the opportunity to  work with the Whitefeather Forest Initiative and other forest companies in the future. “This could be the start of what really should be the trend all across the country,” Gravelle said. Ontario`s Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle: Published in Wawatay Online, February 18, 2010, Volume 37, No. 4
DEUTSCH EDAI Economic Development for Amerindians