An impression of the boreal forest.

Indigenous peoples across North America share a long association with the environment and fire management across the landscape (Miller, 2010, 29), particularly in the Boreal Forest. The Boreal Forest is a naturally fire driven landscape, that depends on periodic fires to renew itself (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 38). Indigenous people living in this area have used their knowledge of fire use and its interaction on the landscape to clear the land for millennia and thereby initiate ecological successional cycles that provide food and other materials (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 36). The Pikangikum people, are a remote Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) people (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013) who have a history and knowledge of the use of fire on the landscape. The Pikangikum federal reserve land lies on 18 kilometres square, within a larger 12 000 kilometre square territory that was settled under Treaties 9 and 5 (Miller, 2010, 45). Their territory is part of the Red Lake District within the Northwest Forest Region governed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) (FMP, 2012, 28). The Whitefeather Forest is an area within the Pikangikum First Nation traditional territory to which the First Nation obtained a Sustainable Forest Licence in 2012 (Ministry of Natural Resources, 2013). Indigenous knowledge of fire use on the landscape was suppressed during colonisation and through the imposition of European ideals of forest management. Regarding climate change and the rising occurrence of uncontrolled forest fires, it is important to learn from traditional fire management systems that shaped the environment. Furthermore, the landscape created through fire use created a basis for biodiversity which should be taken into account to broaden conservation objectives and understanding (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 45).



In North America and Eurasia, large areas are dominated by boreal forests (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 37). Canada's land mass consists of 58 per cent or 6 million kilometers square of boreal forest (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt 2006, 37). This area stretches from Newfoundland in Eastern Canada to the Yukon in Western Canada (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 37). While fire is a current occurrence in the Canadian forest landscape, fires especially influence the boreal forests (Weber & Taylor, 1992, 324, Miller & Davidson-Hunt 2013). The boreal ecosystem is shaped by periodic forest fires which impact the forest's structure and species composition (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013). Thus, dominant species such as jack pine, black spruce and lodgepole pine are "requiring fire to open seed bearing cones or to stimulate sprouting from below-ground roots" (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013).

Indigenous people living in the boreal region have established a lifestyle based mainly on hunting, fishing and gathering (Berkes & Davidson-Hunt, 2006, 37). To accommodate their needs, they modified the boreal forest for millennia using small fires among other things (Weber & Taylor, 1992, 324). One of these groups are the Pikangikum First Nation, an Anishnaabe community in northwestern Ontario (Miller et al., 2010, 2290, Miller 2010, 1). The Pikangikum population consists of about 2000 residents whose first language is their native Anishinaabe language (Miller & Davisdon-Hunt, 2013). The community lives in a remote area that is accessible by plane or boats during summer and about 80 kilometers from the winter road during the winter month's freeze-up (Miller et al. 2010, 2292). For the Pikangikum, fishing, moose hunting, trapping and the collection of berries are still important for their domestic economy (Miller & Davisdon-Hunt, 2013). Elders of the Anishinaabe are important knowledge holders who are experts in traditional fire management (Miller & Davisdon-Hunt, 2013).

The Pikangikum people used small fires to establish food security and enable the forest's renewal (Miller & Davisdon-Hunt, 2013). Controlled fires were used to "improve wildlife habitat, prepare garden plots, maintain cabin areas" (Miller, 2010, 1) and to meet other objectives. These practices included the "systematic burning of meadows, river edges, lake shores and other areas" (Miller, 2010, 1). These controlled fires were used during the spring to facilitate forest renewal and optimise forest conditions (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). Due to these measures, the biodiversity and productivity of the landscape was enhanced (Miller, 2010, 1).

However, these practices were suppressed by European settlers and the national government until the late 20th century (Miller et al. 2010, 2292). During the early colonial period, European settlers found an abundance of resources when they settled in Canada (Miller, 2010, 26). In this phase they perceived forests often as obstacles to attain valuable resources such as minerals (Miller, 2010, 26). Due to this and due to efforts to expand agriculture, forests were often set afire by settlers (Miller, 2010, 26). As settlers recognized the economic value of forests and the threat forest fires posed to settlements and thereby human lives, their fire policy shifted towards one of fire suppression (Miller 2010, 26). This strategy was supported by the government since the mid 19th century (Miller, 2010, 26). However, the province did not have sufficient technology for fire detection and transportation for the mobilization of fire crews to access and suppress forest fires until the late 20th century (Miller 2010, 26).

This fire suppression policy was recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) in its values of "threats to life, property, and forestry licences" (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). This policy has only changed recently as the OMNR acknowledged the influence of controlled fires on the landscape (Miller et al., 2010, 2293). In this context, the OMNR worked with Pikangikum people and especially elders to develop a fire management strategy for the Whitefeather Forest which is part of the Pikangikum territory (Miller et al., 2010, 2293). As forest fires shaped the boreal forest and also the habitat for woodland caribou, the suppression of these fires led to a change in the forest and, thereby, the shrinking of the habitat for the endangered species of woodland caribou (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). In the wake of the implementation of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, the OMNR started working on a strategy to increase woodland caribou habitat (Miller et al., 2010, 2292, OWCRT, 2008). Miller et al. pose (2010) that the OMNR expressed the will to use prescribed fires within the Whitefeather Forest in order to enhance wildlife habitat (Miller et al., 2010, 2299).

However, this approach was met with criticism by Pikangikum elders as they did not understand why the use of fire should be reintroduced after being suppressed for such a long time (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). Furthermore, they recognise that although fire might create renewal it can also cause harm (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). In addition to this, Pikangikum elders underline the danger forest fires might pose during summer as it will be hard to put these fires out (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). Miller et al. explain that elders, therefore, would suppress any fires occurring in summer (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This underlines that there is currently a conflict between the idea of reintroducing prescribed fires and the Pikangikum elders' concern about its implications especially regarding a changing climate with longer and hotter summers (Brown, 2009, 516). This gains even more importance as First Nation communities are often more vulnerable to climate change effects as they are the first to experience changes to hunting, fishing and gathering conditions that have a direct impact on food security (Brown, 2009, 523).

Tenure arrangements

Ontario Forest Tenure Backgrounder

Forest tenure is a term used to describe who manages Crown forest and how do forest companies gain access to Crown fibre (MNRF, 2019a). Tenures specify the distribution and licensing of timber from Crown forests and is directed by legal arrangements that explain the rights and responsibilities assigned to forest companies and other resource users (MNRF, 2019a). Different combinations of rights and privileges are granted by various types of tenures.

There are five (5) common types of Crown land tenure in Ontario (MNRF, 2019a):

There are 40 forest management units in Ontario, and 4 ways through which crown forests are made available (Ontario Government, 2004):

Of Ontario’s forests 91% are owned by the province (Crown lands), 8% are owned privately, and 1% is owned by the federal government (Haley & Nelson , 2007). Ontario forest tenures are 100% area based, and 80% of the annual allowable cut is legally associated with designated wood processing facilities (Haley & Nelson, 2007).

Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs)

Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs) are long term licences issued for a period of 20 years, typically for an entire management unit. The SFL provides the right to harvest and utilise the forest resources available within the designated management unit. The SFL holder is required to carry out certain forest management activities to provide for sustainability of forest, meaning they are required to manage the forest. They can be held by single entities (ie. First Nation groups, pulp mill company), multi-shareholders, or Crown agencies. (MNRF, 2019e).

SFL holders have management responsibilities including forest management planning, such as preparing Forest Management Plans (FMPs) every 10 years, annual work schedules, and annual reports (MNRF, 2019h). Holders must have oversight of all forest operations, including the construction, maintenance and liabilities associated with forest roads and water crossings. They have the responsibility and obligation for stumpage, including maintaining the minimum balance of forest renewal trust-fund (Davis, 2017). They must be in compliance with all legislation including planning, monitoring and reporting. Finally they are responsible for sustainable forest management (Davis, 2017).

Location of the Whitefeather Forest and Pikangikum First Nation in Northern Ontario, Canada

Whitefeather Forest Community Resource Management Authority

The focus here is the Whitefeather Forest, which is located in Northwestern Ontario within the ancestral lands of the people of Pikangikum. The Whitefeather Forest Initiative established in 1996 is a community economic renewal and resource stewardship initiative to support the rebuilding of economic independence for the people of Pikangikum, all while maintaining their cultural landscape and traditional land values (Keeping the Land: Land Use Strategy, 2006). To separate political aspects from actual planning, the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation was established in 1998 (WFI, 2008). In 2011 (authorized 2012) the Whitefeather Forest Community Resource Management Authority, a new corporation, was granted a 20 year Sustainable Forest Licence (Licence Number 552594), which expires in 2022 (Ministry of Natural Resources, 2013). The Whitefeather Forest covers a total area of 1.2 million hectares, consisting of 767,038 hectares that are classified as Managed Crown land and 407,829 hectare that are classified as other Crown land including provincial parks. 19 hectare are considered private land while 840 hectare are classified as Reserve Land occupied by the Pikangikum First Nation (FMP, 2012, 35). A sustainable forest licence is a form of state (province) held licence, as it is issued through the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) for operation on Crown land. Thereby, the Whitefeather Forest is managed by the Whitefeather Forest Community Resource Management Authority which is responsible to prepare, implement and monitor the forest management plan established in 2012 (FMP, 2012, 32). The corporation is also responsible for any operations on access, harvest or renewal of the forest (FMP, 2012, 32).

The issuance of the Sustainable Forest Licence to the Whitefeather Forest took sixteen (16) years of effort on behalf of the elders of the Pikangikum First Nation (Keeping the Land, 2006). It is the first SFL granted to a First Nation in Ontario’s North, and is a rare single entity SFL (MNRF, 2013).This issuance of this SFL represents the culmination and intensive long-term planning efforts created to ensure land-based economic opportunities for the youth of the Pikangikum First Nation (O’Flaherty et al., 2008)

From 1996 to 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and the Pikangikum First Nation worked towards and completed a community based land use strategy, entitled: Keeping the Land: A Land Use Strategy for the Whitefeather Forest and Adjacent Areas. The plan describes the strategic use of the Whitefeather Forest, as well as encompasses the Pikangikum’s traditional and holistic methods of forest stewardship and includes western science as made available by the OMNR (Keeping the Land: Land Use Strategy, 2006). The goal was for the Pikangikum First Nation to obtain an SFL so they could “lead forest management and guide development within their traditional territory” (Miller at al., 2010, 2292). Through the negotiations the OMNR developed the Northern Boreal Initiative, which enables First Nation communities of Northern Ontario to take the “lead in developing land-use strategies for their traditional territory” (Miller et al., 2010, 2292).  

Through the Crown Forest Stewardship Act a licence holder is obliged to create and be enforced by a land use strategy (plan). The Land Use Strategy is a guidance document, providing framework for future land and resource management. It does not alter existing authority, nor does it confer new authorities (Keeping the Land, 2006, 13). Pikangikum First Nations responsibilities continue and are reaffirmed through the Community-based Land Use Planning process. The Ministry and other provincial agencies continue to have obligations set out in provincial policy and legislation (Keeping the Land, 2006, 13). After the implementation of the plan, the Pikangikum First Nation continued to strive for more influence in forest management (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013). This quest was partly recognised when the OMNR “approved the forest management plan authored by forestry consultants under the direction of the Elders Steering Group and the Pikangikum land use strategy” (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013).

Community-based land use planning is a way to ensure that the Ontario government and First Nations are collaborating in the Far North of the province, and ensures sustainable development (Keeping the Land, 2006). As economic development is limited, First Nations in the region want to develop land-based economic opportunities, therefore numerous strategies and initiatives have been undertaken by the OMNR and the First Nations groups to ensure protection of the sensitive, and culturally significant lands. The Pikangikum seek to achieve cultural and economic revitalisation based on the use of their land and therefore seek more influence on the land use planning for their traditional territories (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013).

Strategies and Initiatives include:

Administrative arrangements

The Pikangikum First Nation is an Ojibwe First Nation located on the 1808 hectare Pikangikum 14 reserve in the Red Lake District in Northwestern Ontario (FMP, 2012, 28).


Treaties between the First Nations of Ontario and the British Crown (government) were negotiated and signed with the intention of mutual benefits (MNRF, 2019g). At the time of signing the First Nation signed as independent and self governing nations (Government of Canada, 2018).  Losing their sovereignty, First Nations in Ontario (Canada and around the world) were targeted by colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and ultimately eradicate them, counter to the promises of partnerships the treaties had implied (Taylor, 2016).

Treaty rights are the specific rights of First Nations embodied in the treaties – often they address the creation of reserves for the exclusive use of First Nations and their rights to hunt, fish and trap on provincial Crown land. These rights are protected under subsection 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982 (MNRF, 2019g).

Treaties in Canada formalizing the relationship between First Nations peoples and the government were signed between 1781 and 1930 (MNRF, 2019g). Ontario is covered by 46 treaties (MNRF, 2019g). Pre-confederation treaties 3, 5 and 9 were signed with Ojibway and Cree communities in Northern Ontario (including the Pikangikum First Nation (Miller, 2010)) between 1873 and 1930 (MNRF, 2019). The terms included setting aside reserves, one time and annual cash payments, and the protection of hunting and fishing rights on Crown land (MNRF, 2019g). The people of Pikangikum have treaty rights to hunt and fish within their territory, although have felt repressed and watched by fish and game officers (Miller, 2010, 97).  

Ontario Forest Management Policies

Ontario has forest laws and policies that provide direction for the sustainable management and use of Crown forests (MNRF, 2019c). These laws and regulations ensure that forests are managed “to meet the social, economic, and environmental needs of present and future generations” (ECO, 2014, 3).  The guiding piece of legislation that all operators on Crown land must adhere to is the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. This act outlines (MNRF, 2019c):

In addition to the act, the Ontario government sets out Forest Management Planning Manuals that provide direction for all aspects of forest management planning on Crown forests under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (MNRF, 2019c). The Forest Management Planning Manual provides direction for all aspects of forest management occurring on Crown forest land. The manual sets out the requirements for planning, implementing, monitoring and reporting forest harvesting activities and reforestation (MNRF, 2019c).

Before any forestry activities can happen on Crown land a Forest Management Plan must be prepared. Forest management Plans must be prepared every 10 years by a registered professional forester (RPF), touching on and following the applicable legislation (Government Ontario, 2004). These plans lay out how much and where harvesting is to occur, where roads are built and how the forest will be renewed. The goal of a management plan is to ensure sustainability while finding a balance of social, economic and environmental values (MNRF, 2019f)

Under a Sustainable Forest Licence, companies (such as the Whitefeather Forest Community Resource Management Authority) must work with the government to prepare and implement forest management plans for the licence area. They are required to prepare annual reports, monitor compliance with the Forest Management Plan, and invest in revegetating the forest post harvest, as well as pay stumpage and Crown fees (MNRF, 2019f).The first Forest Management plan for the Whitefeather Forest was published in 2012 (FMP, 2012, 26). The preparations for the plan started in 2009 and was conducted by a multi-disciplined Planning Team “under guidance of Pikangikum Elders participating on the Whitefeather Forest Initiative Steering Group” (FMP, 2012, 26).

Other administrative considerations:

Wildfire Fire Management Strategies

In 2013 the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) engaged governments, stakeholders, Aboriginal communities and the public on the need to update the direction for wildland fire management across the province (MNRF, 2019i). Authority relative to wildland fire management comes from Forest Fires Prevention Act (FFPA). As wildland fire affects many natural resource values, other legislation also influence wildland fires management (MNRF, 2019i):

In 2004, there was an amendment of the Forest Fire Management Strategy for Ontario which defined certain areas of the Whitefeather Forest as full fire suppression zones (FMP, 2012, 34). Prior to that, fire suppression within the area was limited (FMP, 2012, 34). A key strategy of the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation is to protect forests from fires, thereby ensuring the supply of wood and the protection of wildlife habitat (FMP, 2012, 251). This leads to the strategy to prevent, detect and suppress forest fires in the area (FMP, 2012, 251).

Overlapping Interests

There are numerous activities and resource uses taking place in the Whitefeather Forest. Apart from the use for subsistence and commercial purposes of timber and non-forest products by the Pikangikum First Nation, there are several actors operating in the same area following different objectives (FMP, 2012, 34). There are about 21 tourism operators active at 53 locations within or in a two kilometre radius around the Forest Management Unit who offer “traditional hunting and fishing vacation activities” (FMP, 2012, 85). The Forest Management Plan implemented in 2012, aimed to establish Resource Stewardship Agreement negotiations between these tourism companies and the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation (FMP, 2012, 35). This was established as the Pikangikum people voiced the will to enable dialogue with the tourism industry in order “to establish cooperative relationships” (FMP, 2012, 34).

Apart from this, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry classified certain areas of the forest as having significant mineral potential (FMP, 2012, 69). Although there are currently no mines in the Whitefeather Forest, there are about 44 mining claims in this area (FMP, 2012, 69). In addition to that, there are “numerous potential aggregate extraction areas in the Whitefeather Forest” (FMP, 2012, 69) and about three active aggregate permits although there is no active aggregate site within the Whitefeather Forest (FMP, 2012, 69).

Another activity in the Whitefeather Forest is commercial fur trapping (FMP, 2012, 69). There are about 22 trap lines within the Whitefeather Forest Management Unit boundary involving 299 indigenous and four non-indigenous trappers (FMP, 2012, 69).

396,003 hectare of the Whitefeather Forest (about 33,7 percent of the area) are considered as Park and Protected Areas (FMP, 2012, 86).

There are currently no Overlapping Licence Agreements on the Whitefeather Forest (FMP, 2012, 32). Nevertheless, these diverse activities and permits issued for the Whitefeather Forest area illustrate the diverse actors and stakeholders in this area.

Affected Stakeholder

Pikangikum First Nation (Moderate power, high degree of care)

When considering the issue of fire management in the Ontario boreal forest, especially in the Whitefeather Forest, the affected stakeholder are the Anishinaabe people of Pikangikum. The Pikangikum First Nation has lived and shaped their environment for millennia including the use of fire. The fire suppression strategy implemented by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources imposed this technique and thereby suppressed indigenous knowledge on forest management. Thus, the Anishinaabe people's lifestyle and forest management were altered, thereby directly affecting the First Nation and their natural resources. As the fire suppression prevented the established renewal practices, it also affected food security and biodiversity in the region. However, the Anishinaabe people's knowledge on fire management is not lost as the First Nation's elders still know about these practices and thereby remain knowledge holders (Miller et al., 2010, 2299).

Even though these elders possess the knowledge to reintroduce controlled fires, not everyone in the community agrees with the effects this would have on their land (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). As Miller et al. (2010) point out, unpleasant short-term results such as smoke and burnt forests might be a problematic issue with the public in Canada in general as well as within the Pikangikum community - even though these practices might be based on Anishinaabe knowledge and values (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This underlines that as well as the suppression of fire management, the reintroduction of controlled fires will have an immediate effect on the Anishinaabe people's land.

The Pikangikum First Nation are deeply connected to their land and share a long-term emotional bond with it, thus, they are the main affected stakeholder. However, their power in the process is limited. As their land use strategy plan was recognised by the OMNR they gained influence on the resource management of their territory (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013). However, they still strive for more control over their resources and are, thus, still dependent on the OMNR’s resource and fire management policy (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2013). Although the Pikangikum First Nation has an ancestral connection to the land, their territory is still a time-limited permit on Crown land, thereby limiting their control over the Whitefeather forest to their Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL). Thereby, they are able to use their ancestral land but are bound to the governments forest use policies, including policies on the use of fire, and to the need to log the allowable annual cut (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). However, the Pikangikum First Nation is able to exercise moderate power through the Whitefeather Forest Initiative and connected corporation (Miller, 2010, 49). This is underlined by the fact that the current Forest Management Plan for the Whitefeather Forest was developed under guidance from the Pikangikum Elders (FMP, 2012, 26). Therefore, the Pikangikum First Nation exercises moderate power over the Whitefeather Forest while having a high degree of care for their ancestral land.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Federal government (some power, low degree of care)

As the federal government's national fire management strategy influences fire management policies in Ontario, the federal government is an interested stakeholder who has an indirect influence on fire management in the Ontario boreal forest although the final regulations on Crown lands are made by the province (Miller et al., 2010, 2293). While the government formerly followed a fire suppression policy, this approach shifted to "a more nuanced fire management strategy that seeks to minimize risk to communities, property, resources, and other values while maximizing the ecological benefits of fire (Miller et al., 2010, 2293). As the federal government and its actors do not have a long-term emotional relationship to the land they are an interested stakeholder.

Provincial government OMNR (high power, moderate degree of care)

The provincial institution responsible for fire management of Ontario's Crown lands is the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). During its strict policy of fire suppression, the ministry underlined an emphasis to reduce "threats to life, property, and forestry licenses" (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). As well as the federal government, the provincial government is interested as they do not have a long-term emotional bond to the Anishnaabe land but are (economically) interested in the land and exercise control over land and fire use. Their focus is on economic gain through forest resources as well as national and international quests for the protection of endangered wildlife such as the woodland caribou (Miller et al., 2010, 2290). As the provincial government is responsible for the fire management implementation in Ontario, they exercise significant power and control over fire and forest management. Furthermore, the OMNR in conjunction with the Pikangikum First Nation has to approve any "land and resource-use decisions pertaining to the forest" (FMP, 2012, 29). This attributes a high control and power to the OMNR.

Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation (high power, high degree of care)

The Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation was established in 1998 by Pikangikum elders to enhance control over their traditional territory and separate forest planning from the Whitefeather Forest Initiative (Miller, 2010, 49). It serves the purpose to mediate between Pikangikum First Nation and the OMNR (Miller, 2010, 49). Furthermore, this corporation (now the new Whitefeather Forest Community Resource Management Corporation) holds the Sustainable Forest Licence for the Whitefeather Forest and is, thus, responsible for the management of this area (FMP, 2012, 32). This underlines that this corporation is exercising a high degree of power over the Whitefeather Forest. As this corporation is mainly concerned with planning and, thus, including economic interests it is classified as an interested stakeholder. Nonetheless, as it is established by the Pikangikum Elders and guided by their care for the forest it can be assigned a high degree of care for the area.

Provincial fire managers (moderate power, some degree of care)

Provincial fire managers are directly involved in the decision-making process of fire management in Ontario (Miller et al., 2010, 2298). They influence the selection of areas which are permitted to be burnt and decide on zones that should be protected from fire (Miller et al., 2298). Furthermore, they decide who can participate in fire use practices and in the suppression of fire (Miller et al., 2010, 2298). As they are employed by the government and, thus, earn a wage, they are interested stakeholders. Due to their power in the decision-making process, they exercise moderate power while their aim to protect certain areas from fire might be seen as some degree of care for the forest.

Forest and Land managers (moderate power, some degree of care)

As forest and land managers influence forest management strategies they can be seen as stakeholders in the Ontario boreal forest fire management. However, they are interested stakeholders as they earn a wage and only have a short-term relation with the land (as their employer might allocate them to a different area). They already recognised that controlled fire have positive effects such as "an increased range of vegetation communities, successional stages, and accompanying animal populations" (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). While they influence forest management strategies they exercise a limited local power in fire management strategies. As they are also responsible for the enhancement of Woodland Caribou habitat, they can be assigned some degree of care for the forest area.

Canadian public (some power, low degree of care)

Closely related to the government is the Canadian public opinion on fire management. As pointed out when dealing with Anishinaabe resistance to the introduction of controlled fires, also the wider Canadian public objects to controlled burning (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). Short-term results such as smoke and burnt forests are facing a public backlash which lowers the political will for the funding of controlled burning within provincial budgets (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This example underlines that the Canadian public is an important stakeholder concerning fire management. Even though the Canadian public will, thereby, be affected through forest fires for example due to smoke, they are interested as they do not share an ancestral bond to the land and are not as dependent on the land as the Anishnaabe people are. However, due to their voting power, the Canadian and especially Ontario public have significant power as politicians will take the public opinion into account when deciding on fire management changes (Miller et al., 2010, 2299).

Forest Industry (high power, low degree of care)

As the fire management of forests is directly affecting forest resources, one interested stakeholder is the forest industry. This stakeholder has mainly commercial interests in the process and often shares no long-term relation with the land. As the OMNR fire suppression strategy underlined, the protection of forest licences is an important issue for the provincial government as well as the industry (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). This indicates that the forest industry is a main factor taken into account by the government and is thereby exercising power. The source for this power is the legal contract of their forest licence. Furthermore, the industry’s degree of care for the forest can be reduced to the economic interest in its products and indicates low care for the forest in a holistic concept.

Tourism Industry (moderate power, some degree of care)

The tourism industry is already present in the Whitefeather Forest. As the Forest Management Plan poses, they will be included in talks on forest management which attributes moderate power to this stakeholder (FMP, 2012, 68). This is incorporated into the plan as it underlines that “tourism values” (FMP 2012, 68) should be protected. As these values will focus on the maintenance of the current situation in order to offer tourist activities such as hunting, some degree of care for the forest might be attributed to the tourism sector.

Other industries (moderate to high power, low degree of care)

As the mining and aggregate industry have claims and permits in the Whitefeather Forest they can be seen as interested stakeholders (FMP, 2012, 84). Their legal documents ensure them rights to the resources within this area and attribute them thereby moderate to high power once they begin operating in the area. As these operations will require the clearing of forest, they can be assigned a low degree of power for the forest.


Fire in indigenous societies is a recognized tool utilized across many ecosystems for many purposes in Ontario, as well as across North America (Miller et al., 2010, 2291).  Through the processes of colonisation, the indigenous use of fire was suppressed through the introduction of state controlled fire management regimes (Miller at al., 2010, 2291). Although the implementation and collaboration with the OMNR to develop the Sustainable Forest Licence was relatively successful there are a few downfalls.  Particularly with the use of fire management. “Keeping the Land” was an undertaking through the Pikangikum elders' own initiatives, with the vision of maintaining customary stewardship responsibilities, and stewardship activities (Miller et al., 2010, 2292). The Land Use Strategy provides a framework under which the Pikangikum First Nation and the OMNR can undertake dialogue – an area identified as needing more dialogue concerning fire management (Miller et al., 2010).

Fire Management

Fire management policy has been historically (since colonisation) developed by the respective provincial governments. Increasingly however, with a shift in global climate and understanding of climate change, the provinces have started to go in an ecological direction – using ecology and science to direct their fire management policies. Discussion forums between the OMNR, government ecologists, and the Pikangikum First Nation have been created to exchange knowledge regarding fire behaviour, its impacts on the land, as well as current fire suppression policies that are imposed on the Whitefeather Forest. Through the platforms created with the collaboration and development of the Land Use Plan (Keeping the Land), the idea is for the Pikangikum elders to comfortably share their knowledge of the historic use of fire. The recognition of elders' knowledge and perspectives opens research avenues regarding the implications of fire suppression, as well as the use of prescribed burning (Miller et al., 2010, 2292).  Fire management policies are currently experiencing a shift from fire exclusion to “maximizing the ecological benefits of fire” (Miller et al., 2010, 2292), while minimising risk (Miller et al., 2010). In this respect, traditional ecological knowledge of fire can be useful as Pikangikum Elders possess nuanced knowledge of how the behaviour of thunderbird or prescribed fire differentiates and at which time of the year forest fires can become dangerous threats (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). As uncontrolled forest fires are increasing due to climate change, this knowledge should be taken into consideration of fire suppression especially during summer in order to prevent harm (Brown 2009, 516).

Despite these shifts and the intentions set out to work with the Pikangikum First Nation towards collaborative forest management and fire management policies, the perspectives of First Nations are still often neglected (Miller et al., 2010, 2293). One example for this is the Ontario Woodland Caribou Recovery strategy published in 2008 which aimed at a recovery of woodland caribou in the boreal region (OWRT, 2008, 4). Recognising the importance of fire to the habitat of woodland caribou this plan suggested that “large fires north of the 51st parallel could play a role in conserving woodland caribou habitat, [however,] no one asked the First Nations who live in the area if they thought that this would be a good idea” (Miller et al., 2010, 2293) pose Miller et al. who worked closely with the Pikangikum people and especially their elders specialised in fire management. In this example Pikangikum indicate the harm forest fires can pose especially in summer (Miller et al., 2010, 2299).

Pikangikum elders hope to engage with the government and other local stakeholders through “dialogues, teachings and practices involving fire” (Miller, 2010, v).  They hope to continue the dialogue with the OMNR concerning the role of fire in the Whitefeather Forest area. As the Pikangikum Elders have expertise and knowledge on fire use and management, they should be an important actor to develop a fire management strategy and to enhance biodiversity and the habitat for endangered species.


Power Dynamics

There is a lot of conflicting information regarding the Pikangikum First Nations role within the Whitefeather forest.  Although the forest licence was obtained through a collaboration with the Pikangikum elders and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the land is still crown land, and ultimately all decisions made must be made in line with applicable legislation. According to Declaration Order MNR-74 concerning forest management in the Whitefeather Forest all forest management decisions must be in accordance with Forest Management Planning Manuals, that have been prepared and signed by a Registered Professional Forester. A planning team is also appointed to make forest management decisions, and members of this planning committee include an OMNR RPF, a representative from any overlapping licensees and an appointed members of the Pikangikum First Nation (MNRF, 2019b). Ultimately the power dynamics in this situation lie with the provincial government - despite allowing for collaboration with Pikangikum First Nations, it is ultimately the OMNR that has the final say in any forest management decisions as they also have to approve the Forest Management Plan proposed for the Whitefeather Forest.

Research Methods

Most research involved collaboration with Pikangikum First Nation to consider how to apply their knowledge with the forest management practices in the Whitefeather forest (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2010). A long term research relationship between the University of Manitoba and the Pikangikum First Nation - formalised in the Whitefeather Forest Research Cooperative Agreement signed in 2003 was setup to established research priorities, principles, and protocols agreed upon by research institutions (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2010). They explored community knowledge of fire and attitudes towards fire management.  Methods involved semi-structured interviews with elders, workshops with elders dedicated to a discussion of the OMNR fire policies and historic practices (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2010). The workshop was attended by Pikangikum First Nations, OMNR employees, fire operations personnel, regional forester, regional lands manager, Ontario Parks Canada representative and provided an opportunity to exchange information (Miller & Davidson-Hunt, 2010). The Forest Management Plan for the Whitefeather Forest was prepared under the guidance of the Pikangikum Elders within the Whitefeather Forest Initiative (FMP, 2012, 26). The Pikangikum Elders directed the multi-disciplinary Planning Team on the “selection of harvest areas [...], primary road locations [...], silviculture treatments [...] and the protection of cultural and ecological values” (FMP, 2012, 26). This influence on the actual management plan was also highlighted by Miller and Davidson-Hunt (2013) as they argue that the approval of this plan by the OMNR was a success for the Pikangikum First Nation to gain more influence over forest management. Thus, the ethnographic research conducted mainly by Miller and Davidson-Hunt as well as the Forest Management Plan conducted by a diverse planning team relied on a close interaction with Pikangikum elders.


The Sustainable Forest Licence and allowing for the Pikangikum First Nation to manage the Whitefeather Forest can be seen as a step for the Pikangikum people to gain more control over their territory. The First Nation was able to utilise traditional methods through their Land Use Strategy. However as this Sustainable Forest Licence is only a time limited Crown concession, the Whitefeather Forest is still subject to Ontario forests acts and regulations which limit the First Nations' control over their territory. The current conflict between the OMNR and the Pikangikum First Nation on the reintroduction of fire use underlines that there should be more dialogue between these actors to achieve a fire management strategy that is beneficial to the forest and the Pikangikum First Nation as they will be affected by any changes. While the OMNR has voiced its will to reintroduce controlled forest fires, Pikangikum Elders have expressed their concern that fires might pose significant harm, especially during the high risk season of summer (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This underlines that the OMNR is currently not having sufficient knowledge on fire management to introduce a fire management strategy that will effectively enhance wildlife habitat and forest renewal. Thus, the traditional ecological knowledge and consent of the Pikangikum elders is essential to any further development. This knowledge is especially important as a changing climate is leading to hotter, drier summers and, thus, increases the probability for uncontrolled forest fires (Brown, 2009, 516). In this context, the detailed knowledge of the Pikangikum elders is valuable to achieve a better understanding of fire behaviour (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This knowledge and understanding would then lead to a better fire suppression strategy of uncontrolled fires.

This is directly connected to the principles of reciprocity, responsibility, relevance and respect pointed out by Kirkness and Barnhard (2001) that should be followed when interacting with indigenous peoples. In order to respect Pikangikum people, any fire management strategy and ultimately reintroduction of controlled fire management should be based on consent. This notion is set out by the emphasis on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) set out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007). In Article 32, this declaration poses that indigenous people should be consulted to attain their "free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories" (UNDRIP, 2007, 9). Although this declaration is supported by the Canadian government since 2016, it is still not adopted into the Canadian legislation and, thus, remains a statement of good intent (Bulkan, 2016, 11). However, since this declaration sets a global discourse on indigenous peoples' rights to FPIC, it should also be referred to in the context of the Whitefeather Forest and any operations taking place in this area. The principle of reciprocity might be incorporated by the Whitefeather Forest Initiative as it aims to mediate between the OMNR and Pikangikum Elders and thereby contribute to a knowledge exchange. As Kirkness and Barnhard (2001) explain, the principle of responsibility should be recognised when interacting with First Nations by enabling participation in the process (Kirkness and Barnhard, 2001, 11). As any fire management strategy is directly affecting the Pikangikum people, their participation should be valued and consent should be necessary before proceeding, referring to the principles set out by Kirkness and Barnhard as well as the UNDRIP.

The aspect of respect should also be incorporated when dealing with indigenous knowledge in order to respect Pikangikum elders as knowledge holders and understand their knowledge within its context. When looking at the Forest Management Plan for the Whitefeather Forest, this plan claims that it is using a “digital indigenous knowledge data set” (FMP, 2012, 25) achieved through guidance by the Pikangikum elders. However, this raises questions about the relationship between traditional ecological knowledge and western scientific knowledge. The term “knowledge data set” (FMP, 2012, 25) implies that indigenous knowledge can be extracted and organised as an objective and detached database. Nevertheless, traditional ecological knowledge is bound to an emotional and thereby subjective connection to the land and consists of stories, songs, and other forms of expression (Menzies & Butler 2006). Through reducing this complex knowledge to a database this knowledge might be misunderstood as it is detached from its individual context. This is a concern also voiced by Miller et al. (2010) as they argue that the detachment of knowledge from the respective knowledge holders might lead “to management decisions that may differ from those that we may make when we undertake dialogue with the knowledge holders” (Miller et al., 2010, 2299). This may still underline the hierarchy between traditional ecological knowledge and western scientific knowledge as indigenous knowledge is detached from its knowledge holders and context and is collected in a form that is useful for western scientific knowledge. To create an equal relationship between indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge, knowledge collected should not be seen as an objective set of data. Instead, the context and connection to the land should be acknowledged and indigenous knowledge should be kept in an culturally appropriate way. This would acknowledge the importance and value of indigenous knowledge and enable a more equal relationship.

This conservation resource was created by Sarah Isabell Mund and Marisa Ashley Course:CONS370'


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