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Pikangikum travellers tour Menominee Tribe's forest

Thursday August 8, 2002

Each morning, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation members can glance out their windows and see one of nature's gifts - trees.

August 8, 2002: Volume 29 #16

Pikangikum First Nation is seeking answers about how to use that gift wisely.

Their quest led them into the United States and directly to the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.

Thirty community members made the journey on June 17 to view a forestry operation that is tribally owned and managed.

The Menominee reservation contains 235,000 acres of northeastern Wisconsin forest land.

Fifteen Elders, including seven couples, along with 15 younger people, made the trek to see the forestry operations in Wisconsin.

Alex Peters, President of the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation, said they made the trip to learn.

"The opportunity for First Nation forestry is only one part of our Whitefeather Forest Initiative. But we wanted to see a world famous forestry operation - one that is tribally owned and managed - where we could learn from First Nation people. What we saw was impressive," Peters said in a prepared statement.

What impressed the entourage was the quality and health of the forest.

The forest has been harvested more than twice over the last 140 years.

"The philosophy behind their forestry is the same as the teachings of our Elders at Pikangikum," said Peters.

"These principles include harvesting only the interest from your traditional territories and never removing the principle. They do not take the best and leave the rest. They leave the best and take only the interest."

Peters said this is what is called a "steady-state harvest."

"Another crucial principle behind their success at keeping such a healthy forest is what we call in English, community-based planning. They are in control of forestry planning and the land use planning which supports it."

The community is "right there and seeing the effects of everything that they do," added Peters.

The principles, said Peters, are rooted in traditional teachings and values of the kind Pikangikum's Elders are seeking to keep.

"This is exactly what our Elders have directed us to follow in our Whitefeather Forest Initiative. They have told us that whatever we harvest from the land must follow our traditional teachings that guide, keeping the land for future generations."

The Whitefeather Forest Initiative is hoping to do just that.

The Initiative is about the people of Pikangikum who want to control their future, which for them includes control of their traditional lands.

The community of 2,100, has the largest on-reserve population in Northern Ontario.

Their traditional territories stretch throughout the traditional traplines, former Whitefeather president Peter Quill said.

Estimated to be about 1.5 million hectares, "This is the economic base for the next generations to come."

In a presentation by Quill in Ottawa about a year ago, he outlined Pikangikum's reasons for starting the Initiative.

"For years, our people refused to even talk to outsiders about forestry," he said.

"When companies would write to us, we would not respond. If government people asked us, we said we did not agree to resource development."

"In our Ojibway society," continued Quill, "we have been taught how to care for the land by our parents and grandparents - from time immemorial. We have been taught that caring for the land is done best by those who know the land best - the people living on the land over countless generations who have the best knowledge of it."

Quill said this is called "Kaanaawayn'daamin n'daaki miinan - keeping our land. It means local resource stewardship. It is how our land has remained rich and bountiful. This is what the Whitefeather Forest Initiative is based on."

It is these guiding principles that led them to the Menominee Tribe.

Menominee comes from the words "Manomin Ininiwug" and the people continue to harvest Manomin, which means wild rice, each year.

Peters co-ordinated the trip and said the Elders "were always delighted to see wildlife" along the way.

Some of the Elders who made the trip are well into their eighties.

According to Peters, Pikangikum has the highest rate of language retention in Northern Ontario, which impressed the southern neighbours.

Roxie Bigfire, a writer for The Menominee Nation News, wrote: "It was a wonderful sound to hear the First Nation Elders speak only in their native Ojibway language, where other U.S. Tribes have been losing the retention of their native languages."

Nothing wasted
Once the Pikangikum group arrived at the Menominee Reservation, they were settled into the Menominee Casino/Hotel.

The two-day visit was marked by a guided tour of the forest and the forestry operations, as well as a tour of the Menominee Tribal Enterprises mill complex.

The facility, said Peters, houses a sawmill, a planing mill, kiln dryers and a heating plant.

High tech lasers were in use in one building, set beside other old ship dock buildings used for air-drying wood.

"They waste nothing," Peters said.

"They burn their sawdust for heat. They sell chips to regional pulp mills. They sell shavings to horse farms. They use everything."

The mill employs more than 260 people and is managed by Lawrence Waukau, President of Menominee Tribal Enterprises.

This is not the first sojourn into other communities, said Quill.

Three years ago, Quill began looking at other forestry operations located in B.C. and Saskatchewan in order to come up with new ideas.

The Internet has proven a useful tool for the community as well.

The Menominee forestry operation Web site led the Pikangikum group into the United States, which the Ojibway refer to as "Gitche Mookoman Aakiing" - the Long Knives Land.

Peters said the trip won the Pikangikum people new friends.

"Lawrence Waukau and I agreed that we would continue to build our relationship. We both think that there are various opportunities to work together and support each other."

Peters said he has invited Waukau and other officials to visit Pikangikum.

"Our dialogue will continue as we build our Whitefeather Forest Initiative at Pikangikum. We are excited about what we will accomplish if we stick with our vision."

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