My Experience in Forestry: Indigenous Engagement & TEK

Megan Young, Adopt-A-Pond’s Wildlife Biologist, took part in an internship in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre for 12 weeks over the winter. She was working as a First Nations Intern with the Forest Ecosystem Research and Assessment Team within the Canadian Forestry Service/Natural Resources Canada. As she learned a lot about the soil and plant ecology side of the forest ecosystem, she’ll be sharing some aspects of what she’s learning on our blog! Check back for updates from her experience. ‘

Blog 3: Indigenous Engagement and TEK

Part of the internship was working with two of the local Indigenous communities closest to Sault Ste Marie – Garden River First Nation and Batchewana First Nation. Although I grew up in Toronto, I am proud to be from Garden River First Nation, or Ketegaunseebee, and so I consider Baawaating to be my traditional homelands. Baawaating means the place of the rapids in Anishinaabemowin, or the language of the Anishinaabe people, and is the traditional name for the Sault Ste Marie area. Sault Ste Marie is a city along the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron. The St. Mary’s River has many rapids, and today, there are locks that allow boat traffic to travel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron to go around those rapids.

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A photo of the rapids in St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste Marie, ON. Photo retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Through working with these communities, there have been many conversations around engagement, herbicide use, invasive species, and traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge can be defined as knowledge collected by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial that is inherently connected to the land, culture, values, and language. Traditional knowledge can be very specific, but it also includes some general philosophies. For example, the land is considered to be the provider of everything – it’s the grocery store, the workplace, and the pharmacy. There’s also no Anishinaabe word for “weed”, as everything has a purpose.

When incorporating Indigenous knowledge into forestry, one species that is important is the white pine, or Pinus strobus. It is widely planted in the forestry industry and was used historically by settlers, but also had various purposes to the Anishinaabe people in the Baawaating area. For example, it was used to waterproof birchbark canoes at the seams and allowed the Anishinaabe to travel across the Great Lakes. Also, it was one of the tallest trees and so its topmost branches would be blown by the prevailing westerly winds, causing them to point almost due east. Therefore, it was also used as a compass.

Coniferous trees on a lake pointing easterly are indicated by arrows. As you can see in the pictures, there’s no wind (a calm lake) and there’s no heavy snow causing the trees to bend this way. The bend is caused by the prevailing winds over time, creating a reliable source of direction.

Notably, the resin or gum of the tree was used as a band-aid or stitches to keep wounds clean, dry, and closed. Some elders have stories of having deep cuts that would require stitches now, but using pine resin instead and not even having a scar! Pine resin is used by pine trees to heal and seal off wounds and prevent infections that may be caused by insects, fungi, or other pathogens, so it makes sense that it would have similar properties to help human wounds. Pine resin has been found to be astringent, anti-itching, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. These properties have even been confirmed by western science in the literature to varying extents (e.g. 1–4).

When western scientists hope to engage with Indigenous communities, it is important that they understand the colonial context and power dynamics that cannot be separated from these interactions. Understanding local traditional ecological knowledge can help towards understanding Indigenous cultures and values, which aids in engaging in meaningful and genuine relationship building. When Indigenous knowledge and values are taken into account in western science and forestry, for example in forestry management plans, it ensures the protection of Indigenous culture but also creates reconciliation, sustainability, and a more holistic view of the forest ecosystem.

References

  1. Barnes, T. M. & Greive, K. A. Topical pine tar: History, properties and use as a treatment for common skin conditions. Australas. J. Dermatol. 58, 80–85 (2017).
  2. Patel, N. K., Jaiswal, G. & Bhutani, K. K. A review on biological sources, chemistry and pharmacological activities of pinostrobin. Nat. Prod. Res. 30, 2017–2027 (2016).
  3. Georgescu, M. et al. Natural Compounds for Wound Healing. in Worldwide Wound Healing – Innovation in Natural and Conventional Methods 61–89 (InTech, 2016). doi:10.5772/65652
  4. Rautio, M. et al. Antibacterial effects of home-made resin salve from Norway spruce (Picea abies). APMIS 115, 335–340 (2007).