Whitefeather Forest Initiative

Our Stewardship Planning Process

Keeping the Land is the result of a planning process that began in 1996 when Pikangikum First Nation Elders gave our leaders a mandate to pursue a commercial forestry opportunity in the Whitefeather Forest. They wanted this opportunity to be led by our First Nation. Even before this time, our Elders had already wisely anticipated the interest that would grow in relation to our ancestral forest. For example, Pikangikum Elders taught a prophecy that had been handed down to them by our ancestors that there would come a time when a person walking through our forest would see money hanging from the trees.

In 1999, members of the Forest Industry, the environmental organizations belonging to the Partnership for Public Lands, and the Ministry of Natural Resources successfully negotiated an historic Accord identifying 2.4 million hectares of parks and protected areas within the commercial forest region of Ontario to the south of us. The Ontario Forest Accord set out the conditions supporting this development. They included agreement by the parties to support the orderly development of commercial forest management in far northern Ontario, where the Whitefeather Forest is located. Our early work on the Whitefeather Forest Initiative allowed us to set the direction for establishing a commercial forestry opportunity in the Whitefeather Forest in accordance with our Keeping the Land stewardship tradition. The approval of the strategy represents the achievement of a major milestone leading to the acquisition by Pikangikum of forest management tenure for the Whitefeather Forest.

Roles and Responsibilities
Our planning work continues as we go forward to implement the Keeping the Land Strategy. Pikangikum Elders, through the Whitefeather Forest Steering Group, guide all of our planning.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is Pikangikum’s main planning partner for the Whitefeather Forest. In particular, support is provided by the Red Lake District Office and through the Northern Boreal Initiative supporting policy framework.

Planning for the Land Use Strategy
The planning activities to develop the Land Use Strategy included development of the planning partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, dialogue with many interested parties, development of an extensive digital Indigenous Knowledge data set, and development of a comprehensive Vegetation Resource Inventory.

Development of the digital Indigenous Knowledge data set was undertaken by Pikangikum community members. It involved research with Elders and others knowledgeable of the land, along with GIS data management. Geodatabase software was developed specifically for our IK dataset. This in turn involved training and education of youth who participated in this work. This work has resulted in maps which are now widely acclaimed. Our maps have been featured in regional media and in the ESRI Map Book gallery.

The Vegetation Resource Inventory included training and education of youth who were involved in the field programs associated with development of the VRI.

Together with the Ministry of Natural Resources we hosted three Open House dialogues, held in Pikangikum and Red Lake, for the general public.

Our dialogue and partnership building with interested parties included neighbouring First Nations, representatives of the regional resource industry (forestry, tourism, minerals), the environmental community, and the municipality of Red Lake.

In 2003 we signed a partnership agreement with the Partnership for Public Lands. The agreement was signed in Pikangikum at the end of a Boreal Rendezvous trip. The Whitefeather Forest Initiative was featured in a book about this and other trips called  “Rendezvous with the Wild”.

Being “in the driver’s seat” – Community-Based Land Use Planning
Our Community-Based Planning process means that Pikangikum First Nation is “in the driver’s seat” for planning for the Whitefeather Forest.

There is no single term in Ojibway that easily expresses the phrase “in the driver’s seat” that we have adopted from English. Following our traditional leadership norms, when a head trapper (kahohkiimahwich) walks on the land the other people follow behind. By following in this way they are deferring to that Elder’s knowledge of the land, their personal experience with the land.

Being kahohkiimahwich was an important position since that person did all the planning for the group living in that area. The families in that area would look up to that individual, usually an elder man, and would be under his guidance. Kahohkiimahwich not only leads the trapping and hunting but provides spiritual guidance and advice, including medicinal knowledge. Kahohkiimahwich has all these responsibilities as spokesperson for the group.

It is in this way that we see Pikangikum being “in the driver’s seat.” We are taking the lead for decision making on the lands that we have been raised on, that we know most intimately; these are the ancestral lands that we are responsible for ensuring continue to provide for our people.
[Keeping the Land – A Land Use Strategy, p. 4]

Our planning process takes account of the need to harmonize community-based land use considerations with the larger landscape scale responsibilities of Ontario.

…community-scale planning recommendations make substantial contributions to landscape-scale objectives. This process respects that further landscape scale planning must take place in other processes, undertaken by other First Nations and OMNR. Reference to landscape-scale interest, geography, considerations and results can be found throughout the Strategy.
[Keeping the Land – A Land Use Strategy, p. 15]

MNR Pride Award
In 2007 the Steering Group of Elders, staff of Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation, and members of our Technical Team, together with staff from the Ministry of Natural Resources who worked with us on our planning were awarded the MNR Gold P.R.I.D.E. award for outstanding achievement in our Community-Based Land Use Planning Process.

Next Steps in Achieving Our Stewardship Objectives
We continue to work in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and others to achieve our stewardship goals for the Whitefeather Forest.

Currently this work involves:

  • Forest Management Planning
  • Protected Areas Management Planning
  • Related business planning
  • Developing arrangements to implement these plans

We intend to complete these tasks by the end of 2012.


Photo Gallery

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The Whitefeather Forest lies within ancestral lands of the people of Pikangikum First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, Canada.

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Keeping the Land
A Land Use Strategy for the Whitefeather... Read More »

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