Course:CONS370/Projects/Forest Management Practices of the Anishinaabe People of Ontario, Canada

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Country: Canada
Province/Prefecture: Ontario

This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS370.


This case study discusses the background and history of forest resource management practices of the Anishinaabe Peoples in Eastern Canada as well as the potential challenges in forest resources management that these groups face in today’s socio-political landscape. This case study consists of a description of the background of this study, the tenure arrangements, the administrative arrangements, description of the power stakeholders and their roles, interested stakeholders and their roles, and our analysis of Anishinaabe forestry through history and assessment of its successes and failures.  


Anishinaabe is defined as a group of culturally and linguistically similar first nations/Native American groups that inhabit eastern parts of Canada and the United States, with most indigenous groups settling around the Great Lakes region of Eastern North America. In Canada, the Anishinaabe Peoples live from the Ottawa River Valley in Eastern Ontario to Southern Saskatchewan. Ojibwe, Chippewa, Odawa, Potawatomi, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Nipissing, Mississsauga, some Oji-Cree, and some Metis First Nations are part of the Anishinaabe indigenous group [1].

The location of our case study is in the province of Ontario. Ontario is a province in Eastern Canada covering a total of more than 1 million square kilometres of surface area. The largest ecozone in Ontario is known as the Ontario Shield. It is a large vegetated region covering 61% of the province, and 68% of the Ontario Shield consists of forests.  The other 32% is a mix of ponds, lakes, and wetlands.  The Ontario Shield is known for its high mammalian diversity and supports subsistence activities such as hunting. Another zone is the Mixwood Plains zone in Southernmost Ontario dominated by a diversity of deciduous trees such as American beech, sugar maple, and yellow birch.  Faunal diversity is equally high and also supports subsistence hunting and fishing activities [2].  

Map showing showing Indigenous groups of the Anishinaabe


The Anishinaabe or Anishinaabeg (plural), is a collection of culturally and linguistically similar first nation groups. They inhabit the northeastern states of the U.S. and eastern provinces in Canada. These are people of the forest, who have been caretakers and stewards of the forest for generations. The Anishinaabe are primarily centralized around the great lakes region of North America, however, Anishinaabe territories can range as far west as North Dakota in the U.S. and Saskatchewan in Canada, as well as northern boreal regions [1].

The Anishinaabe peoples are thought to have originated on the North American Atlantic coast, approximately 1,000 years ago [3]. Over time, the Anishinaabe nation gradually moved closer to what is now known as Lake Superior. In Anishinaabe culture, this movement of people is known as the Great Migration [1]. After contact with European settlers, they moved southward into the Ohio Valley and into the western plains.

“Mino-bimaadiziwin” is an Anishinaabe term for a concept that encapsulates their understanding of the interactions between the natural world and humans. In the Anishinaabemowin language, it means “the good life”, and is used to describe the complex relationship and respect that the Anishinaabe people have with the land that they live upon [3]. The Anishinaabe people have relied upon the forests and waterways of Eastern North America for hunting, foraging, resources, migration and spirituality for many generations.

“The Elders explain, “from my perspective and teachings, water is spiritual. It is part of who we are, it is part of why, it is what binds the natural world with life” (Anishinaabe Elder 4) and “water itself is believed to have a spirit since it is an entity unto its own. This spirit gives life, nourishes and ‘is medicine for us’” (Anishinaabe Elder 5)”[3]

A quote from an Anishinaabe elder from research by [3], describing the meaning of fresh water to the Anishinaabe people. This quote succinctly exemplifies the meaning of the phrase “mino-bimaadiziwin” to the Anishinaabe people and the spirituality that the natural world carries with it, in the eyes of this collective first nations group.

Tenure arrangements

Throughout the years of colonial influence, which persist to this day, there have been many treaties and land agreements within Anishinaabe sovereign land. Many of these treaties have been used against the Anishinaabe residents in an oppressive manner and used as a means of land acquisitions, rather than for the benefit of the Indigenous communities already living in these regions. Historically, British Colonists, who then became the Royal Canadian Government made claims recognizing unceded indigenous land, however, the government would act in completely different ways and more often than not disenfranchise the people from their home territories.

Since the 17th century there have been countless historic treaties, and not all were officially recognized by the crown until made explicit in the Canadian constitution in 1982 [4].  The historic treaties within the Anishinaabe region include seven Numbered Treaties (1871-1921), two Robinson Treaties (1850), two Williams Treaties (1923), and 30 Upper Land Surrenders (1781-1862).  Since then, a declaration and commission have been created. Globally and nationally acknowledged, accepted and respected, these two legislative documents seek to uphold indigenous rights, laws and legal traditions.  In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created in 2008, as part of reconciling the horrific residential schools that ended in 1996. The commission was officially closed in December of 2015. However, the internationally recognized United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), still stands today. Created in 2007, the declaration is a multilateral effort to recognize the rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples around the world.  UNDRIP defines and constitutes what the minimum standards of well-being should be for Indigenous Peoples globally.

We will primarily focus on the Canadian context and specifically treaties in the southern reaches of the Anishinaabe territories, along the great lakes region in Ontario.

Treaty 1: Created in 1871 between Canadian officials and the Anishinaabe and Swampy Cree nations [4]. This treaty took eight days to create and was enacted to promote peace and friendship between the crown and the first nations in southern Manitoba. The goals of Treaty 1 were to secure land and resources for the first nations as they transitioned into an agricultural lifestyle. “Outside Promises” were made to the Anishinaabe and Swampy Cree First Nations, such as ploughs, livestock and other farming supplies. However, within the first year of the treaty, both bands complained that the promised resources had not been honoured by Canadian officials. To this day, Treaty 1 is still considered controversial [4].

Robinson treaties: Two treaties were created in 1850, that separated the Upper Great Lakes. Both treaties were separate, but highly interconnected. This first was the Robinson Superior Treaty (RTS) and the second; Robinson Huron Treaty (RHT).  The two treaties were created to provide the Government of Canada the ability to access the shores of Lake Huron and Superior, for settlement and mineral extraction.  In exchange, the Anishinaabeg nation gained recognition of hunting and fishing rights, paid annuity and a reservation for each signatory community [1].

Williams Treaties: Created in 1923 between the Federal Government of Canada, Provincial Government of Ontario and seven Chippewa First Nations of Lake Simcoe and The Mississauga of the North Shore of Lake Ontario.  These treaties signed over 20,000km2 of land to the crown, in exchange for a one-time cash payment to both the Chippewa and Mississauga first nations.  There have been disputes, following the legal proceedings, in regard to misunderstandings surrounding the agreements of land acquisition. The two first nations argued that the Williams Treaties also guaranteed hunting and fishing rights on the territories, and that annuities were not being paid.  In 2018, the issue was resolved by the Ontario court of Appeal, including compensation amounting to roughly 1.1 billion paid by Canada and Ontario and a formal apology to the Williams Treaties First Nations [1].

Upper Canada Land Surrenders: These are a series of land surrenders that occurred during the late 18th century and covered most of what is now known as Southwestern Ontario. These land agreements were made between Indigenous communities and the crown, as the crown being the main beneficiary. Among several other First nations communities, the Anishinaabe and Huron-Wyandot nations primarily, claim that these land acquisitions were unjust, exploitative and often covered unceded traditional territories. Roughly 30-35 land surrenders occurred and most are upheld to this day [1].

Administrative arrangements

The Anishinaabeg is a collective term for a community formed of several different First Nations within Eastern North America, their borders range between many different areas of Western jurisdiction. These vary between states and provinces and the extent of legal authority, consequently changes as well. There are Federal, provincial/state and regional laws that apply to First Nations, depending on where the particular community in question is located.

We focus here on those in the Canadian context and in particular, the bodies of governance in southern Ontario. In 1876, the Indian Act came to fruition in Canada. This is a piece of Western legislation designed to oppress and control the indigenous peoples within Canada [1]. The Indian Act has led to many atrocities such as the banning of cultural ceremonies, gatherings, wearing of traditional clothes and the ability to speak the desired mother tongue.

“The Indian Act attempted to generalize a vast and varied population of people and assimilate them into non-Indigenous society. It forbade First Nations peoples and communities from expressing their identities through governance and culture. The Act replaced traditional structures of governance with band council elections. Hereditary chiefs — leaders who acquire power through descent rather than election — are not recognized by the Indian Act. Until 1951, women were also excluded from band council politics.” [5]

The fallout resulting from the Indian Act, has been ongoing since its inception. There have been several amendments to the Act over the years, however, it retains the Indian Status as a legal identity for Indigenous peoples and those who identify as first Nations, as well as regulatory laws surrounding the management of band resources [5]. In 2010, the federal government announced a new campaign to eliminate parts of the Indian Act, in an attempt to aid reconciliation efforts and abolish the ability to create residential schools, however funding was cut, under the Harper government in 2014 [6].

Despite the federal governance the Anishinaabeg nations have a collective band council located in North Bay, Ontario, which is upheld by three separate nation councils, in four different regions within southern Ontario. These are Getzidjig Advisory Council, Kwe-Wuk Advisory Council and the Eshekenijig Advisory Council [7]. Each council helps to provide many services to nation members, including health and social development, labour and market development and the management of lands and resources. Today the Anishnaabeg First Nations are a collective of 39 separate bands brought together under the Union of Ontario Indians [8].

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders can be defined as a person, groups of people, or entities whose livelihoods are or can potentially be impacted by various activities in forested areas that are culturally and customarily significant to them. Affected stakeholders often have ties to their lands and the ties can be geographical, ancestral, or subsistence-related.  

The Anishinaabe Indigenous Groups

The point in red indicates the location of Grassy Narrows Anishinaabe group in Northwestern Ontario
The point in red indicates the location of Grassy Narrows Anishinaabe group in Northwestern Ontario

For this particular case study, one of the affected stakeholders are the tribes of the Anishinaabe indigenous group that reside in Ontario.  One of the major goals of the Anishinaabe peoples in forest management is the maximization of biological diversity. In the Shoal Lake region of Ontario, Anishinaabe peoples’ management of forest habitats gave rise to a variety of plants with medicinal and edible values [9]. Indigenous peoples have less power and this could be shown through a case study on the Grassy Narrows Anishinaabe groups in Kenora Ontario. In the latter half of the 20th century, industries moved onto Grassy Narrows territories but their practices were against the land-based management values of the Grassy Narrows peoples. In 1979 the members of Grassy Narrows proposed the autonomous Grassy Narrows Traditional Land Use Area to counteract the Ontario government’s decisions. The GNTLUA eventually influenced the provincial government to regulate the forest industries actions, but this decision did not occur until 30 years later in 2011. The Grassy Narrows group have fears that the effectiveness of the ruling may only be temporary [10].

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders can be defined as a person, groups of people, or entities whose work may take place in a specific forested area but they may not utilize the forested area for long periods of time. Compared to affected stakeholders, interested stakeholders do not have a very strong connection to a specific land or territory.  

Ontario Provincial Government

One of the interested stakeholders in our case study would be the Ontario provincial government. The provincial government makes laws regarding the use of natural resources and the participants in forest management activities. The Ontario provincial government has more power in that the government is the key decision-maker in forest management planning.  If Anishinaabe groups want to manage forest products in a certain way, they would have to follow laws created by the provincial government. Government policies in Ontario are often in favour of the government rather than indigenous groups. An example is the Far North Act created by the provincial government in 2012. The objective is to improve first nations and government relations, but a detailed analysis of the act revealed that the government can make environmental management decisions with minimal consultations with indigenous community members [11][12].      

Non-indigenous Forest Companies

Forest companies are responsible for managing forests for timber production purposes and selling forest products for economic gains. It is important to note that non-indigenous foresters might follow a different set of beliefs when it comes to forest resources management and base their management practices on western science rather than conforming to the traditional values of indigenous groups. An interesting study conducted in Eastern Ontario on herbicide use by forestry professionals showed that even though herbicide is legal in some circumstances according to provincial regulations, first nations groups are still vehemently opposed to the decision because it directly interferes with indigenous cultural practices such as wild meat harvesting. The first nations groups that were interviewed were Michipicoten First Nation, Chapleau Cree First Nation, Missanabie Cree First Nation, Taykwa Tagamou Nation, and the Mattagami First Nation. All interviewees have expressed their anger about the decision of applying herbicide because it is detrimental to the health of both wildlife resources and humans.  In this case scenario, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources gave more power to forestry companies than Anishinaabe groups by allowing forestry companies to apply herbicide [13].  


Teenagers of the Grassy Narrows First Nations starting an anti clear-cutting blockade.
Teenagers of the Grassy Narrows First Nations starting an anti clear-cutting blockade.

The role of journalists is to cover various incidents occurring on Anishinaabe lands and spread the message to the public. One of the examples of the role of journalists in supporting Anishinaabe peoples is the covering of the Grassy Narrows anti-clear cutting blockade. From 2002 to 2014, Grassy Narrows Anishinaabe Nation in Kenora, Ontario have been protesting against the government’s decision of allowing clear-cutting on their land. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) covered this news story and after a decade, the Canadian government decided to impose restrictions on logging companies [14]. If the CBC did not extensively cover this major news story, the provincial government might not have taken action. Journalists and news outlets may be concerned about the livelihoods of Anishinaabe peoples and want to give them a bigger platform to express their demands, but Anishinaabe lands do not play a central role in the lives of Journalists, and neither do news corporations require safe and secure Anishinaabe lands to operate.  

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO)

The logo of Amnesty International
The logo of Amnesty International

Non-governmental organizations can show strong support for the rights of Anishinaabe groups. They would show their support by urging the provincial government to take actions. One of the most prominent NGOs in Canada is Amnesty International, an international human rights group. Amnesty International Canada is actively involved in environmental activism and providing first nations groups a voice. Amnesty International Canada was aware of the on-going conflicts between the Grassy Narrows First Nations and the Ontario government, and to help Grassy Narrows safeguard their land and resources from clear-cutting activities, in 2007, AIC decided to speak directly with the Government of Ontario to urge them to take action and respect the rights and demands of Grassy Narrows First Nations [15]. Without the AIC’s pressures on the Ontario government, progress might not be made to support and advance the rights of Grassy Narrows First Nations.    


A sign placed in the Grassy Narrows First Nations indicating that a local river is contaminated with mercury.
A sign placed in the Grassy Narrows First Nations indicating that a local river is contaminated with mercury.

Our objective of this case study is to explore the history and facts of Anishinaabe forestry and educate the public about the successes, failures, and on-going struggles that Anishinaabe face in forestry.  

Historically, Anishinaabe groups faced many challenges while fighting for their rights to strengthen their connections to and manage their land and forest resources. Provincial governments often make land management decisions that are not in favour of the rights and values of Anishinaabe groups. A notable example would be environmental dispossession that was beyond the control of the Pic River and Batchewana Anishinaabe groups in Eastern Ontario. Starting in the mid 20th century, Anishinaabe peoples have witnessed road and railway building on their land for forest harvesting purposes. Hydroelectricity, mining, and pulp and paper mills have also been established on Anishinaabe lands.  These industries produced pollution that physically affected Anishinaabe groups. In addition to the physical harms inflicted upon Anishinaabe groups, emotional and spiritual trauma such as the residential school system destroyed the language and Anishinaabe cultural practices [16].  The impacts have persisted and to this day, Anishinaabe interviewees have expressed concerns about becoming out-competed by other forestry companies in natural resources management and development. Intergenerational sharing of traditional ecological knowledge has been disrupted due to the residential school system. Non-timber forest products have also become contaminated and the quality has deteriorated [16]. In recent years, Pic River and Batchewana have fought against the provincial government on issues such as permits for resource extraction on their own lands and on-going environmental dispossession under the approval of the government.  

Recently, there have been successes in Anishinaabe forest management too. A good example would be the Pikangikum First Nations knowledge co-production with other stakeholder groups.  The Pikangikum is an Anishinaabe group located in Northwestern Ontario.  According to Kirkness and Barnhardt (2001)’s paper about the 4 Rs, one of the Rs was reciprocity. Reciprocity is being described as a “two-way” process where both the teacher and the student are equals and both show an eagerness to learn and understand one another’s cultural backgrounds [17].  In the Pikangikum First Nations, the elders within the community have expressed their desires for understanding the traditional uses of medicinal plants with the help of western science and if the non-indigenous stakeholders are willing to act in a friendly and respectful manner, then Pikangikum would be willing to teach.  So far the collaborations between Pikangikum and other stakeholders have been successful and have benefited Pikangikum greatly because this exchange of traditional and western knowledge of science can help Pikangikum better manage their forests in an era of significant environmental change [18].    


To understand the governance and relative power the social actors have in regard to the Anishinaabe peoples, the history of governance must first be explored. Governance has deep roots within the history of the Anishinaabe peoples. One of the earliest recorded forms of governance that still exists in a form today is the Council of Three Fires that consists of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi [19]. The Council of Three Fires have origins that go back long before colonial contact [20]. The name, “Council of Three Fires”, has significance as fire has many powerful spiritual meanings in Anishinaabe culture [19]. Each group is represented by a fire which shows the alliance between the three different groups [19]. While at the same time, the symbolism of fire helped distinguished the three groups to avoid them being seen as all the same people by colonial settlers [19]. These three groups made a perfect fit for forming an alliance as they shared territory borders and had similar languages [8]. The earliest purpose of  the council was to discuss military and political issues within the region [8]. The Council of Three Fires played an important role in maintaining relationships with a variety of different groups throughout history. In the 17th and 18th century, the Council of Three Fires held governance around the Great Lakes region while maintaining relationships with numerous Indigenous groups as well as the French and British [8]. Eventually in the 19th century the Council of Three Fires became the Great Lakes Confederacy when they formed a conglomerate that included other Indigenous groups such as the Algonquins and the Hurons [8]. This formation was a result of the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 and signified a functioning relationship with Britain [8]. After this, the Great Lakes Confederacy helped fight in a war with the British against the Iroquois Indigenous group [8].

Throughout time, the Great Lakes Confederacy evolved and again merged with other Indigenous groups. By 1870, a council by the name of “The Grand General Indian Council of Ontario” had formed and would meet on an annual basis for discussions [8]. By this time the Indigenous peoples were not allowed to have much input on governance for their territories and would discuss the Indian Act at most of the annual meetings [8].

Anishinaabe camp in 1870.

In 1949, The Grand General Indian Council of Ontario morphed into the Union of Ontario Indians, which still exists today. The Union of Ontario Indians made their focus on making their voices heard by trying to  elect an Anishinaabe person to parliament [8]. Additionally, attentions were focused on making sure treaties were being fulfilled and addressing issues with the Indian Act [8]. Until present time, the Union of Ontario Indians has evolved to address wider Indigenous political issues throughout the province [8]. The current Union of Ontario Indians is comprised of 39 Indigenous groups that identify as Anishinaabe [8].

The Anishinaabe have a traditional form of governance and more modern version that resonates traditional values. The traditional form of governance is known as “Anishinaabe Chi-Naaknigewin”, which is a system that operates in the “Inherent, Traditional, Treaty, and Unceded Lands”, of the Anishinaabe territories [21]. Anishinaabe Chi-Naaknigewin focuses on creating laws that protect the cultures and traditions of the Anishinaabe people [21]. There are seven sacred gifts which act as components in Anishinaabe Chi-Naaknigewin which are the following: “Love, Truth, Respect, Wisdom, Humility, Honesty and Bravery” [21]. The modern version of governance has four sections in which it operates on. These four sections are the following: “Leadership Selection, Citizenship, Language and Culture, Operation and Management of Government” [22].

The Anishinaabe have a common relationship with the governance structure of the Canadian government. The Indigenous groups of the Anishinaabe currently have to adhere to the laws and regulations of federal and provincial governments in Canada even though the Anishinaabe did not give governing authority to the Canadian government [23]. However, the Anishinaabe are in the process of developing a governance agreement with the Government of Canada [23]. The governance agreement would be a huge step forward in Indigenous governance. The basis of what the governance agreement would do is that all the Indigenous groups that belong to the Union of Ontario Indians would be recognized as “individual governments with legal status parallel to the federal and provincial governments” [23]. It is very important for the Anishinaabe (and most Indigenous groups) to form their own governance structures because current governance structures force Indigenous peoples to become dependent on non-Indigenous governments which fulfill their own desires instead of Indigenous groups [23]. Ultimately, the ability for the Anishinaabe to govern themselves would give back some of their freedom and independence which was stolen from them. The governance agreement would also provide ample funding for programs that help preserve cultural knowledge and language [23]. Lastly, the governance agreement would help amend legislation in the Indian Act that would allow for elected Chiefs and council members to govern longer for the established 2-year period [23]. The 2-year period for elected Chiefs and council members is too short of a time period and  makes it difficult to implement long-term goals [23].

Overall, we believe the Anishinaabe governance is moving in the right direction to benefit its people; however, there are still many constraints which disrupt their freedom and independence. If the Anishinaabe could pass their governance agreement it would be a massive win for every aspect of life. They could break free from being marginalized by the Canadian government and create laws and legislation which benefits themselves rather than other non-Indigenous groups. The Anishinaabe people have never truly benefited from the laws and legislation from the Canadian government. They have never been given proper circumstances to prosper after contact with colonial settlers. So, forming an independent government that aligns with the beliefs and success of the Anishinaabe is very important.


There are a number of recommendations that could be made to help improve forest management practices and the governance of the Anishinaabe people in Ontario. The first recommendation made would be for increased co-research projects with the Anishinaabe. We recommend more government funding to encourage these types of co-research projects that focus on the co-production of traditional knowledge with Indigenous groups from the Anishinaabe. These types of projects have occurred before with Indigenous groups from the Anishinaabe that show benefits from both parties involved due to the projects operating on the basis of a reciprocal relationship. The researchers gain meaningful work while at the same time the Indigenous groups have their traditional and cultural knowledge documented and protected. More funding from government agencies or even from NGO groups would allow for further documentation of traditional Indigenous knowledge that is at risk of being lost.

The second recommendation would be ensuring that the Canadian government allows the governance agreement to pass that has been laid out by the Union of Ontario Indians. Ensuring that this governance agreement occurs would make forest management decisions and all other political decisions much easier to execute for the Anishinaabe. The passing of the governance agreement would free the Anishinaabe peoples from laws and legislation that don’t best meet their desires. The formation of an individual Anishinaabe government would allow the specific tailoring of management objectives for their forests. Management objectives could switch from managing their natural resources for environmental benefit rather than economic benefit.

The last recommendation we will make is in regard to changing legislation around forestry companies conducting meaningful consultation and co-management with the Anishinaabe people. This could be accomplished through the Ontario provincial government creating further legislation that encourages more meaningful consultation with forestry companies and Indigenous groups. More meaningful consultation would give the Anishinaabe the opportunity to have further input on decision making on what happens within their forests on their traditional territory. More Indigenous involvement through co-management of forestry operations would allow for further decision making that would benefit the Anishinaabe beliefs and management objectives.

Thunderbird art by the Anishinaabe.


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