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Review

Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada

By D.B. Tindall, Ronald L. Trosper, and Pamela Perrault, Editors

August 13, 2014

Review By Brian Egan

Forests, long of economic and socio-cultural importance to both Aboriginal peoples and settlers in Canada, have also been sites of contention between these groups, reflected in blockades, court action, and state policies intended to address such conflict. With a forest industry in transition and with our understanding of Aboriginal title and rights evolving rapidly, questions about Aboriginal peoples and forests in Canada are of critical interest to scholars, policy-makers, and forest-dependent communities. Such questions are the concern of Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada, the object of which is “to provide the reader with an opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal issues relating to politics, culture, forest resource use, and land ethics, so that they may have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that will arise in the coming years from increased Aboriginal self-government and increased Aboriginal land management” (5).

The book has four parts. The first provides context, including a history of Aboriginal-settler land conflict in British Columbia, an overview of Aboriginal peoples’ social location in Canada, an assessment of modern treaty-making in British Columbia, and a study of Aboriginal assertion of land and resource rights. The second explores the different visions — Aboriginal and settler — that shape land and resource use in Canada, with chapters on different approaches to co-management, the integration of Aboriginal knowledge into forest management, and on forms of forest tenure that accommodate Aboriginal rights. The third focuses on traditional ecological knowledge, including prehistoric forest use in British Columbia, cultural resource management in BC forests, cross-cultural understandings of water, and spiritual conceptions of forestry. The fourth examines collaborative approaches to forest use and management, with chapters on forest conflict resolution, co-management and joint ventures in British Columbia, Aboriginal content in forestry education, efforts to accommodate Aboriginal interests in forest policy, and on how consultation and accommodation serve to highlight (and perhaps reduce) losses incurred by Aboriginal communities through resource development decisions and activities.

The book, therefore, covers a broad terrain, from general discussion of the socio-economic status of Aboriginal peoples in Canada to detailed and place-specific case studies of forestry conflicts. Such a broad scope may appeal to a wide audience but weakens the volume’s coherence; this somewhat loose anthology of chapters, collected under a very broad subject heading, lacks a central narrative. This is undoubtedly a familiar hazard of edited volumes, but a conclusion pulling together or integrating the book’s main themes would have been useful. The volume is also uneven in a geographic sense, with more than half of the chapters focused on British Columbia. This is not surprising given high profile forest conflicts here, but the result is that other parts of the country are neglected.

Nonetheless, Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada makes a number of strong and useful contributions, particularly those straddling the meso landscape between case studies and the general contextual. Notable among these is an analysis by M.A. (Peggy) Smith of natural resource co-management with Aboriginal peoples in which she distinguishes between those based on an outdated assimilationist approach and those rooted in an ethos of coexistence. Also useful are chapters highlighting the need for an Aboriginal forest tenure (by Monique Passelac-Ross and M.A. Smith) and calling for integration of traditional knowledge into sustainable forest management (by Marc G. Stevenson). Altogether, the book represents a timely contribution to an important area of study deserving of more attention from scholars. Its gaps point to the need for more work in this rapidly changing field.

Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada
D.B. Tindall, Ronald L. Trosper, and Pamela Perrault, editors
Vancouver: UBC Press: 2013. 364 pp. $34.95 paper