New “Rights-Based A...

The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) of the Internat... Read more »

View All News »

Nishnawbe Aski Nation opp...

On September 16, 2010, the Ontario Government will... Read more »

View All Events »

Catie Burlando I am a PhD candidate at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba. My enduring interest has been in understanding the relationships between people and the environment, and how these manifest themselves in the landscape, specifically through political processes. However, the path to the Institute, and to the research that I do, has been far from linear. I began my university experience at the Geography Department at McGill University, and here I had several opportunities to explore both human and physical geography. I spent time in the field, in Nepal and then Panama, where I worked alongside a local NGO to assess the feasibility of establishing tourism facilities in communities neighbouring a protected area.Catie taking notes I ended my undergrad with an honours thesis in hydrology, the result of an exciting field season as an assistant researcher tracking storms and collecting water samples. This experience allowed me to work for a year in my hometown Belluno, in Italy, monitoring alpine waters. In 2004 I embarked on a one year Masters in Natural Resource Management at the Center for Transdisciplinary Research at Stockholm University. Here I had the opportunity to work with Annika Dahlberg on issues of conservation and development in a small rural community of South Africa. Much of this experience paved the way for my PhD research work. Since 2006 I have been working with Iain Davidson-Hunt, Fikret Berkes (my advisors at the University of Manitoba) and the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation, Pikangikum First Nation’s community enterprise leading the development of forest-based economic opportunities in northwestern Ontario. In my research I focus on the conflicts which have emerged around the designation of protected areas, and look at the ways in which the community is working with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to find a middle ground for their management. Through the concept of cultural landscapes, the Elders in the community are trying to explain to outsiders that a change in economic activities does not represent a break from the past, but rather, a new way for their youth to continue living off the land while maintaining their cultural attachments to the land. Such a relationship is maintained through everyday practice, rather than by dividing and regulating the land into areas for development and protected areas. I’m currently on maternity leave until August 2008.


Rights-based Approach to Conservation

On September 16, 2010, the Ontario Government will vote on the Far North Act. The Act, first introduced in June 2009 by the Ontario Government, would set as an objective the protection of 225,000 square km of the Far North region of Ontario, an area home to a predominantly indigenous population.

When Nathan and I returned to the community of Pikangikum after a month in the bush, the elders asked what we had eaten; not the white man’s food, but Anishinaabe food. We had a long list! Lots of fish – walleye, pickerel, whitefish, sucker, even trout; beaver, including the tail roasted on a fire; rabbit; several ducks; grouse, and muskrat. Gordon had specifically caught a muskrat for us to sample. Muskrat were once widely consumed in the springtime during trapping, but they were valued mainly for their fur. Elder Charlie Peters never got over the story, and continues to prod me for having eaten ‘rat’. So he started calling me ‘muskrat’,  waa-shaa-shk.

[nggallery id="30"]

From downtown Belluno, in northern Italy, it’s only a short walk before I find myself immersed in a landscape of transition. I soon find myself in an urbanized rural landscape wedged between the valley town and the foothills of the Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi. I quickly leave the hustle and bustle of morning traffic behind as I venture into a neighbourhood where roads are windy and narrow, obviously designed for smaller vehicles and lighter traffic. I walk through what were once lands dedicated to agriculture, but that have increasingly been transformed into residential areas. Here, it is possible to see corn fields bordering apartment blocks, luxuriant flower gardens alongside productive fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, old farm houses alongside new mansions. This landscape – wedged as it is at the margins of urban development and the majestic alpine peaks of the Dolomites – is crossed with paths that urge me to imagine what was once there, and to explore what is there today. What I have encountered is an emerging cultural landscape. Yet, do we think of cultural landscapes as the merging of old and new features, or as the practices that continue to maintain this as a used and lived-in landscape?

[nggallery id="20"]

The interdisciplinary framework of political ecology focuses on how relations of power mediate interactions between people and their environment. In particular, they focus on the conflicts that emerge over resources and access to resources, as well as on conflicts over meanings attached to landscape. Political ecologists would ask, who defines what a landscape represents? going further, who defines what a landscape should look like? In the boreal forest of Ontario there is a visible conflict between provincial interests for a variety of development opportunities, and conservation groups who condemn industrial development as a concrete threat to the boreal forest, while supporting the creation of preserves containing large, untouched wilderness areas.

[nggallery id="11"]