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Indigenous Perspectives on Conservation Offsetting

Assembled by Dr. M.A. (Peggy) Smith, R.P.F.
January 2005, revised July 2014


There are two major groups of “Aboriginal people” (as defined by Sec. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982) involved in forest lands and resources issues in Canada: “Indians” (those who are registered as Status Indians under the Indian Act) and Metis. If you’re confused about terminology, you’re not alone! The Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has a useful website to add to the confusion. See “Words First: An Evolving Terminology Relating to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada” at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100014642/1100100014643.


Both status Indians and the Metis have their own political organizations and some of these organizations have the capacity to deal with natural resource issues, or environmental issues more broadly. There are also non-governmental, non-political organizations addressing forestry. Nationally, the most active is the National Aboriginal Forestry Association at http://www.nafaforestry.org. NAFA has been involved in international, national and provincial policy arenas since 1991, with numerous position papers and programs addressing increased Aboriginal participation in forest management (see http://nafaforestry.org/forest_home/ for useful information on a range of Aboriginal issues). The Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, based in Winnipeg, also provides online sources through their Library at http://www.yourcier.org/cier-library.html 

At the national level, the Assembly of First Nations represents status Indian communities (or “First Nations”—there are approximately 640) in Canada. About 80% of these communities lie within the commercial forest zone in Canada. The AFN works with NAFA at times on forestry issues, and also addresses environmental issues at different levels within their organization. See the Policy Areas section of the AFN website at http://www.afn.ca/. The AFN Executive Committee is made up of Regional Vice-Chiefs from the provinces and territories. KNET also has a map and directory providing contact information for First Nations in Ontario at http://communities.knet.ca/.

Provincially, First Nations are organized into what are called Provincial Territorial Organizations (PTOs). In Ontario, there are four and each of these PTOs addresses regional lands and resources issues on behalf of their member First Nations. These PTOs include: The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI at http://www.aiai.on.ca/ ); Nishawbe Aski Nation (representing 49 First Nations in Treaties 5 and 9 areas at http://www.nan.on.ca; Grand Council Treaty #3 (representing 30 First Nation communities in the Treaty #3 area at http://www.gct3.net/ (see especially their Laws and Policy section with their Great Earth Law); and the Union of Ontario Indians or Anishinabek Nation (representing 43 First Nations in the Robinson-Superior and Robinson-Huron treaty areas—see http://www.anishinabek.ca/, esp. their Intergovernmental Affairs and Lands and Resources sections under Programs. Most of these websites list their member First Nations, a few of which may have lands and resources staff. There are also a number of “unaffiliated” First Nations in Ontario who do not belong to a PTO.

Another level of organization of First Nations is Tribal Councils established to encourage groupings of First Nations to share technical resources. Some Tribal Councils in Ontario have forestry experience.

The Metis in Ontario are represented by the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) at www.metisnation.org/. The Supreme Court of Canada Powley decision in 2003 recognizing the Metis right to hunt is profiled on the MNO website. At the national level MNO is affiliated with the Metis National Council (www.metisnation.ca/). The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples at http://www.abo-peoples.org/ claims to represent off-reserve Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal women are also politically organized at the national and provincial levels. In Ontario the Ontario Native Women’s Association at www.onwa-tbay.ca/ has been involved in environmental issues and at the national level, the Native Women’s Association of Canada www.nwac.ca is one of the major national Aboriginal groups involved in policy discussions with the federal government.


The Aboriginal Forestry Initiative (AFI) operated by the Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, in partnership with over 15 federal departments and agencies, “represents a new Government of Canada approach to foster enhanced Aboriginal participation in the competitive and sustainable transformation of Canada’s forest sector. With a focus on economic development, the Aboriginal Forestry Initiative empowers Aboriginal entrepreneurs in the forest sector, by serving as a knowledge centre for Aboriginal forestry and forest sector innovation, and to facilitate knowledge exchange and coordination of federal and other support to opportunity-ready Aboriginal forestry projects and partnerships” (http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/forests/federal-programs/13125).

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) has a web site with a section on the Environment and Natural Resources, providing links to Aboriginal programs and organizations http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100034243/1100100034247. AANDC also provides information about programs in Ontario at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100020284/1100100020288.

The federal government established the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991. The Commission issued its final report in 1996. It is the most comprehensive study of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada ever undertaken and contains valuable resources. The final 3,200-page report, consisting of the summary volume, People to People, Nation to Nation: Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and five additional volumes, was the result of six years of research and public consultation on Indigenous issues. The first two volumes of the report deal with the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Central to this history is the treaty making process (component of Volume 1), and history of treaty implementation and exploitation of land and resources (most of Volume 2). Shortly after the RCAP report was released in 1996, it went out of print. A searchable CD-ROM of the Final Report and background research reports is available in many libraries, and is archived online at http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100014597/1100100014637.


In Ontario, the provincial department responsible for Aboriginal affairs is the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. Established in 2007, OMAA’s mandate is to promote collaboration and coordination across ministries on Aboriginal policy and programs; set priorities for and track the progress of Ontario's Aboriginal agenda; enhance government's awareness of Aboriginal people, issues and best practices for consulting and engaging with Aboriginal people; work with the federal government to find ways to make the most of federal funding; help Aboriginal people to access Ontario government programs, services and information; reform the land claims process to help address historical grievances; and encourage diversity, especially representation of Aboriginal people, in the Ontario Public Service (www.aboriginalaffairs.gov.on.ca/english/default.asp).

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, as a result of the EA Board Decision (1994) on the Class Environmental Assessment for Timber Management on Crown Lands in Ontario, has been making efforts to implement the EA Board’s Terms and Conditions to improve Aboriginal participation in the forest sector. An overview of the MNRF’s approach to Aboriginal Groups in response to the EA is provided in their State of the Forest Reports, 2001, 2006 and 2012. In the 2012 report, MNRF describes how “opportunities for participation in the economic benefits associated with forests continued to be provided to Aboriginal communities and uptake of these opportunities by Aboriginal communities increased.” However, the report also notes that “there is an on-going need for further progress on implementing ways of achieving more equal participation by Aboriginal people in the economic benefits provided through forest management activities.” The MNRF describes how they have attempted to meet the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers commitments to Aboriginal peoples in Criterion 6, Accepting Ontario’s Social Responsibilities for Sustainable Forest Development. The Forest Management Planning Manual for Ontario’s Crown Forests (2009) outlines in Part A, Section 4, Aboriginal Involvement, the requirements for consultation with Aboriginal communities and protection of Aboriginal values in forest management planning. There are very different viewpoints from Aboriginal communities about the success of MNRF’s efforts to recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights and increase Aboriginal participation in forest-based economic opportunities. 


Significant changes in Aboriginal peoples’ involvement in natural resources management have been shaped by Supreme Court of Canada decisions, interpreting the Constitution Act of 1982, section 35(1) clause: “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” Bill Gallagher’s 2012 book Resource Rulers provides a good review of these court cases and their impacts on resource development. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada gave formal recognition to Aboriginal Title, a unique form of Aboriginal land ownership, in Tsilhquot’in Nation v. British Columbia. It is worth reading this latest case to understand how Aboriginal and treaty rights have been interpreted by the Supreme Court. See http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14246/index.do. 


The single most significant developments in the international arena have been the endorsement of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 and the establishment in 2002 of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/). Finally endorsed by Canada in 2012, the Declaration sets out broad principles addressing Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over natural resources existing on their traditional lands. The Permanent Forum is responsible for the ongoing implementation of the Declaration. The United Nations Forum on Forests has also addressed the use of traditional forest-related knowledge in the Non-Legally Binding Instrument (NBLI) on All Types of Forests endorsed in 2007. See www.un.org/esa/forests/pdf/notes/PFII_14052007.pdf for a summary of how Indigenous issues were addressed in the NBLI.


The Sustainable Forest Management Network, established as part of the Networks of Centres of Excellence in 1995, supported research on Aboriginal issues in forest management. The Network completed its funding cycle in 2010, but its research reports continue to be available. A summary of the projects carried out under the Sustainable Aboriginal Communities section (and links to published papers) can be found at http://www.sfmn.ales.ualberta.ca/en/Publications.aspx. The SFM Network through CCI Press published two volumes of papers discussing the results of Aboriginal research projects titled Changing the Culture of Forestry in Canada: Building Effective Institutions for Aboriginal Engagement in Sustainable Forest Management (2009) and Planning Co-Existence: Aboriginal Issues in Forest and Land Use Planning (2010), both edited by Marc G. Stevenson and David C. Natcher. A State of the Knowledge report was also completed by Wyatt et al. in 2010 on Collaboration between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Forestry Industry and Aboriginal land use and occupancy studies in forest management, both available at http://www.sfmn.ales.ualberta.ca/en/Publications/StateofKnowledgeReports.aspx.

The Forestry Chronicle has carried many articles on Aboriginal issues in forest management since the 1990s.

ON HISTORIC TREATIES: www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/al/hts/index-eng.asp

ON LAND CLAIMS: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100030285/1100100030289.


Anishinabek News www.anishinabek.ca
Wawatay News www.wawatay.on.ca
Ontario Birchbark - This is now a monthly section within the pages of Windspeaker


Windspeaker http://www.ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker
The First Perspective www.firstperspective.ca
Turtle Island Native Network www.turtleisland.org

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network http://aptn.ca/