First Nations have sustained themselves on the forest land-base for millennia. That fact explains our long-term view on forests, the environment and human and community health: decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
For me, this ‘seven generations’ thinking is real, and represents both where we’ve come from, and where we want to go. It’s a concept you’ll know as sustainability – how we evolve and adjust to the modern world by looking forward over the very long-term. It’s about meeting our needs, minimizing our footprint and retaining who we are as a people over time.
But as my community works to become more involved in forestry, additional tools are supporting our seven-generations outlook. A central support is our partnership with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
As one of the first indigenous professional foresters in the province, I remember well the experience of looking around my UBC forestry class in 1993 and realizing there were only three of us of similar heritage. We knew we’d need to create a new path for First Nations involvement in forestry. In a way, we were pioneers.
And as pioneers, we had to plant seeds early on, in order for our First Nations forestry vision to take root. And take root it has.
After graduation, I found many First Nation bands had woodlots with an annual cut of only a thousand cubic meters; we established Stuwix Resources, an indigenous forest company that pursued access to forest tenures. And we increased our cut to 50,000 cubic meters, and then to a million. First Nations forestry was on the move, and we were reinventing the way we prepared, carried out and measured our forestry activities.
We wanted to show First Nations values were being met on the land-base. We’re managing these lands for the benefit of our people who have a clear interest in transparent information on how we’re doing.
That’s when we became very familiar with the world of forest management certification. Certification is a method allowing for an independent, third party to measure and verify good forest management. We quickly recognized that SFI was measuring values in a way that was compatible with our own approach.
For me, SFI’s strong commitment to the inclusion of indigenous voices on the board and the external review panel makes the program a win-win for First Nations and major tenure holders alike. The forest sector wants its wood supply certified to the best standard available, and First Nations are looking for ways to participate through their expanding tenures.
Small volume managers want to show they’re managing their forests responsibly, and that what they’re doing can be measured and reported. With the recent introduction of SFI’s Small Scale Forest Management Module for Indigenous Peoples, Families and Communities, certification of well-managed forests has become inclusive for everybody, whether or not you have the financial resources to pay for a certification process on your own.
BC has more than a hundred First Nations bands directly involved in forestry, and within that, sometimes as many as ten bands manage their forests together. SFI has removed a barrier to indigenous entry, and made certification workable for these small First Nations enterprises.
To its credit, SFI realized First Nations needed to be in the discussion. First Nations knew some of the things we cared about deeply in forestry didn’t yet have metrics attached to them. Cultural survival areas were a perfect example: How much do we need? How much spiritual area, how much medicine area, how much food area? In other words, what scale of land do First Nations require in order for us to keep our cultural identity?
Through our participation with SFI, we created a cultural survival management strategy that eventually will have spatial, temporal and protocol metrics attached to each strategic objective. This may sound a bit technical, but it’s crucial to the future health of our communities, providing an important way for us to measure and track our values.
It comes down to this: if we don’t acknowledge our cultural heritage and commit to tracking it, then how will we exist as a people in future? These cultural objectives are as important as the water, the soil, the trees, and the land-base.
Also important to my people is SFI’s support of indigenous initiatives through SFI grants to the steelhead trout enhancement program. The SFI Network is also receiving support to place youth in Green Jobs in Green Places, which has contributed to summer employment options for Indigenous youth. Further, SFI’s commitment to conservation and education, and to engaging the next generation in the workforce is essential to our view of sustainability, and to the seven generations principle.
It’s been a long journey, but I’m excited about the strong future of indigenous forestry in BC. And SFI makes it that much stronger.
Lennard Joe is General Manager of Stuwix Resources Joint Venture (Stuwix), owned and operated by eight First Nations Bands in BC’s Southern Interior. He sits on SFI’s board of directors and is a registered professional forester. www.SFIprogram.org.