Essays by Catie Burlando:
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.
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?
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.