From wilderness vs industrial towards a Pikangikum Cultural 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.
The conflict is represented visually in the literature distributed by such organizations. The first photograph was chosen to show a classical view the boreal wilderness, while the second shows the ‘ugliness’ that a clearcut brings to that same landscape as has been portrayed in environmentalists-led campaigns against logging. Both photographs were taken on a flight which crossed the very evident northern limit of forestry activity in Ontario around the 51st parallel.
These two photos however portray only part of a story well documented and publicized through the media. The conflict between ‘log it all’ or ‘leave it all’ has marginalized northern communities in the past, and today it renders the rights of First Nations people to the land all but invisible. Through a specialized discourse of collaboration, conservation groups affirm an alliance with such communities that may actually have very little to do with how these communities represent their own relationships with the land and see community-led development.
The Elders of Pikangikum, a First Nations community in northwestern Ontario engaged in a land-based economic renewal process, have identified their lands as a Pikangikum Cultural Landscape. This has been understood as a landscape shaped by the relationship of their people with the land. Not only have they and their ancestors shaped the landscapes of their traditional territory, but the landscape itself has formed them. In “Keeping the Land – Land Use Strategy” (available for download on http://www.whitefeatherforest.com/pdfs/land-use-strategy.pdf), Elder Whitehead Moose has expressed it this way:
“Everything that you see in me, it is the land that has moulded me. The fish have moulded me. The animals and everything that I have eaten from the land has moulded me, it has shaped me. I believe every Aboriginal person has been moulded in this way.”
While we are still learning about what Elders mean when they refer to a Pikangikum Cultural Landscape, this discourse has been important in counteracting what have been regarded for too long as public lands with potential only for either outside-led industrial development or protected areas. The Elders of Pikangikum use the concept of a Pikangikum Cultural Landscape for the whole of their territory. Defining the whole of the land as a cultural landscape – which has been shaped and given value by the people who have survived on it – leaves space for this and other communities to continue shaping their lands. This can occur both through subsistence livelihood activities – treaty rights that are Constitutionally protected – but also through new industrial developments which Elders in Pikangikum see as a continuation of their relationship with the land.
It is for this reason that the question of ‘who’ identifies a cultural landscape becomes important. Elders’ definitions of a Pikangikum Cultural Landscape do not clash with their own forestry initiative, because it considers their continuing relationship with the land, and the teachings that guide the way individuals behave on the land. Elder Whitehead Moose has stressed at several meetings the importance of ‘not becoming a stranger in your own land’. If traditional activities do not attract youth to the land because of the lack of income to support this livelihood, then new land-based economic activities such as forestry may enable youth to return to the land. This view appears paradoxical to a western audience that has become accustomed to parks and protected areas as the only means to protect a landscape, and to formal educational forums rather than practice as the way to teach youth about the land.