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Indigenous communities leading in the creation of a conservation economy

The Northeast Superior (NES) region of Ontario is a place of abundant forests and freshwater, and home to a powerful nexus of First Nations. When the 2008 financial crisis caused a wholesale shut down of the natural resource-based economy in the region, these Nations realized that they would need to come together and create new opportunities for their people. In response, the Northeast Superior Regional Chiefs Forum (Chief’s Forum) was formed, a political body comprised of leaders from the region’s six First Nations. Their mandate was to find an alternative economic model to support their communities, and Ecotrust Canada’s approach to building a conservation economy resonated with their vision. In 2012, the Chief’s Forum invited Ecotrust Canada to the region, and a lasting partnership has ensued ever since.

Why Ecotrust Canada?

Since 2012, Ecotrust Canada has been engaging with Chiefs, Elders, mayors, industry, and community representatives in Northeast Superior to explore the possibilities of an alternative economy that does not focus solely on the extraction of resources and wealth from the area. Together, Ecotrust Canada and the Chief’s Forum created Wahkohtowin Development General Partnership (Wahkohtowin), a regional development organization, wholly owned and managed by the region’s Indigenous communities (Wahkohtowin is a Cree word for kinship, and a philosophy that everything is connected). Today, Ecotrust Canada’s partnership with Wahkohtowin continues to thrive as they work to build an alternative economy around the forest sector.

The strategy

In partnership with Wahkohtowin, Ecotrust Canada is focused on the following four strategic priorities:

  1. Natural Climate Solutions – As the 1.6 million hectare Magpie/Martel forest tenure undergoes development of a new Forest Management Plan, Ecotrust Canada is working to ensure that forest carbon management – for the benefit of local communities, Canada, and the world – is a key consideration in the overall management regime.
  2. The Wahkohtowin Innovation Center – Ecotrust Canada is supporting Wahkohtowin in building a permanent gathering place to deliver programming focused on alternative community economic development, environmental stewardship, youth empowerment, jobs training, and the revitalization of First Nations Natural Law.
  3. First Nations Housing – Wahkohtowin has launched Tree to Home program, and Ecotrust Canada’s Home-Lands initiative is supporting this innovative approach to meeting First Nations housing needs with locally harvested and processed wood.
  4. Indigenous Guardians – The youth of NES’ First Nations communities are being given the opportunity to reengage with their traditional lands and waters through Wahkohtowin’s Indigenous Guardian Program. The program promotes connecting youth with elders to promote traditional knowledge, while also engaging in skills training and job placement opportunities that prepares youth for local jobs and careers in natural resource management.

Outcomes

  • Indigenous communities receive the full benefits from forest management in their territories.
  • Community-led climate action through forest carbon management creates a blueprint for other regions to follow.
  • First Nations and local communities have a stake in creating and retaining meaningful jobs.
  • Residents participate in their forests as stewards and environmental monitors.
  • Remote Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the region build their own vibrant, diverse, and resilient economy.

The team

David Flood, General Manager, Wahkohtowin
Chelsie Parayko, Senior Manager, Wahkohtowin
Isabelle Allen, GIS Manager, Wahkohtowin
Joseph Pallant, Director of Climate Innovation, Ecotrust Canada
Chuck Rumsey, CEO, Ecotrust Canada