At the end of September, Canada commemorates Truth and Reconciliation Week 2023, culminating in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day on September 30. In the US, Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on Monday, October 9, followed by Native American Heritage Month throughout November.
In Canada, it’s estimated that over 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools between 1831 and 1996. At these schools, children were taught to hate their Indigenous languages, cultures, traditions, and ancestral connections to the land. Many suffered physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse. Many children died or went missing. So far, The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented over 4,000 children who died at residential schools, but it is estimated that there are more. The residential school system resulted in a legacy of intergenerational trauma and poverty that remains felt by many Indigenous communities today.
The US shares a similar history of displacement and forced assimilation. Beginning with the so-called Indian Civilization Act of 1819, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their families and relocated to Indian boarding schools where their identities, languages, and beliefs were forcibly suppressed. This system lasted 150 years. Prompted by the confirmation of unmarked graves at residential school sites in Canada in 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to review the legacy of Indian Boarding School policies and investigate cemeteries and potential burial sites.
To learn more, Eugene Arcand from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation shared his experience at and beyond residential school, and Mary Annette Pember shared her family’s experience with boarding schools.
We encourage everyone to spend more time furthering their learning. You can also review our past articles for more information:
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
In Canada, Indigenous people can call The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for counselling and crisis intervention. Call 1-855-242-3310 or chat online.
In the U.S., Indigenous people can call or text the 988 suicide & crisis lifeline 24/7.
Truth and Reconciliation in the Forest and Conservation Sector
Residential and boarding schools were one part of a larger system of colonization (for example, the Doctrine of Discovery) that sought to separate Indigenous Peoples from their lands and cultures in order to create space for non-Indigenous settlement and economic development. This includes the forest and conservation sectors.
As an organization working within a sector that has benefitted so greatly from colonization and Indigenous Peoples’ displacement from their territories, it is vital that we consciously contribute to reconciliation efforts today that support the rebuilding of those place-based relationships and the advancement of Indigenous Peoples’ self-determined priorities and visions for the future, as directed by Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Our mission to advance sustainability through forest-focused collaboration must include Indigenous communities who stewarded the land well before settlers arrived, using time-honoured forest management practices like forest gardens and prescribed or cultural burns. And we have started to see more Indigenous participation in forest management now.
SFI’s Indigenous Relations Commitment firmly recognizes the enduring leadership of Indigenous Peoples with respect to sustainable forest management, as well as their unique place-based rights and forest related knowledges that make them essential partners in any forest-focused collaboration. It also commits SFI to adopting the principles of the UNDRIP as a framework for policy, program, and relationship development.
UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Calls to Action provide frameworks and actions we can take to advance reconciliation and Indigenous Peoples’ unique rights and priorities. Below, we have a highlighted a few items that are particularly relevant to the forest and conservation sector and some of the actions we are taking (and your organization could take as well!).
Article 18: Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
- Objective 8: Recognize and Respect Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in SFI’s Forest Management Standard includes performance measures for organizations to confer with Indigenous Peoples whose rights may be affected on public lands through processes that respect their representative institutions.
Article 29.1: Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for Indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.
- SFI Conservation Grants provide funding that communities can use to advance their unique priorities. For example, the Penticton Indian Band is using an SFI Conservation Grant to link Indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge in riparian management. The Penticton Indian Band also invited some SFI staff to the En’owkin Centre to participate in cultural learning circles, breakout groups, and open discussions to address the question of how to respect and protect Indigenous interests while maintaining sustainable forest harvest practices.
- SFI Community Grants also provide flexible funding for communities. The shíshálh Nation received a series of SFI Community Grants to support traditional educational opportunities for shíshálh Nation members to identify, conserve, and map cultural and medicinal plants.
Article 32 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
TRC Calls to Action
7. We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
- Since 2020, Project Learning Tree Canada (PLT Canada), an initiative of SFI, has offered the Green Mentor program to help young adults advance their green career pathways. We have also created internal mentorship programs for Tolko to support local Indigenous youth hired in summer jobs at a sawmill.
- PLT Canada use to offer the Green Skills Training Fund to communities to deliver community-based, forestry-focused skills training for Indigenous youth.
92.i. Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
- Objective 8: Recognize and Respect Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in SFI’s Forest Management Standard includes performance measures for organizations to confer with Indigenous Peoples whose rights may be affected on public lands through processes that respect their representative institutions, in addition to meeting all legal and regulatory requirements.
92.ii. Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
- PLT Canada offers a 50% wage match to organizations hiring youth in short-term Green Jobs. PLT Canada’s Green Jobs program is a great way to encourage organizations to invest in local youth’s skill development while supporting their business goals. For example, Líl̓wat Forestry Ventures LP has hired youth into over 30 PLT Canada-funded green jobs since 2018!
- SFI and PLT Canada sponsor Indigenous youth to attend conferences and expand their networks, such as the SFI Annual Conference and the Forward Summit.
92.iii. Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
- Objective 8: Recognize and Respect Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in SFI’s Forest Management Standard has a requirement for certified organizations to provide appropriate training so that all staff and contractors are competent to recognize and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and traditional knowledge for the purposes of Objective 8.
- SFI requires all staff to review UNDRIP and the TRC calls to Action, and complete Acknowledging Traditional and Treaty Territory and Respectful Communication courses. These documents and courses have also been integrated into onboarding plans for all new staff.