Green Web Bulletin #44

The Wild Path Forward
Left Biocentrism, First Nations, Park Issues and Forestry
A Canadian View

                                                                                                                                             by David Orton

            North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy proponents must address First Nations issues, because such
        issues, at least in Canada, will affect the successfulness of any emerging Strategy. It has become necessary to
        have views on aboriginal issues - including aboriginal rights and treaty rights, native sovereignty, and land
        ownership - and be prepared to express them and defend them. A Wilderness Recovery Strategy entails
        building alliances. While there are strong mutual interests between native and non-native conservationists and
        environmentalists of a radical persuasion in fighting the Earth destroyers, there are often also contradictions
        which need to be publicly discussed. The fundamental question is usually, will natives take the "resourcist" road
        or preservationist path? Non-native environmentalists with biocentric/ecocentric views must feel free to express
        critical perspectives.

        Left Biocentrism: A necessary vision for wilderness recovery proponents to address First Nations issues

            It is the perspective of this article, that putting together a wilderness recovery strategy and building relations
        with First Nations, can best be done with a left biocentric vision. "Left biocentrism" is part of an emerging trend in
        the green and environmental movements, which is gradually evolving through practical activities and theoretical

            As used here to describe this theoretical tendency, "left"  means anti-capitalist but not necessarily socialist;
        "biocentric" means putting the Earth first and subordinating human interests - including indigenous interests - to this.
        The left biocentric tendency represents a left focus within the deep ecology orientation. The eight-point "Platform"
        (drafted by Arne Naess and George Sessions), is accepted as a basic expression of deep ecology.

            The deep ecological world view is the philosophical basis for building a new relationship for humans with
        Nature and within a society. The attitude to deep ecology by left biocentrists is one of critical support. This
        means criticizing and discarding "deep ecological" tendencies toward the cultivation of self divorced from
        social change, and toward insufficient concern for social justice or the practical implementation of deep
        ecology. Critical support for deep ecology also means opposing the propagation of myths of 'sustainable'
        land use in forestry, or marine use in the fishery, within an industrial capitalist society based on private
        property, endless economic growth, population growth and consumerism. Left biocentrists agree that
        industrial capitalism has to go - both industrialism and capitalism. The nature of its replacement is the
        subject of continuing thinking and discussions. Various names and conceptualizations have been
        formulated to try to encapsulate this emerging left biocentric tendency. Its final terminology and content
        are yet to be decided. In applying the left biocentric perspective to the topic of "Environmental-First
        Nations Relationships," there will obviously be genuine differences of opinion.

        Relationship to Traditional Native Thought

            The relationship of the left biocentric tendency to traditional native thinking is also in the process of being
        defined. Traditional native world views seem to have stressed several themes at odds with industrial
        capitalism: the unity and interrelatedness of life; the belief that the world unfolds in a cyclic, not unilinear, way;
        a communal system of property, as against private ownership; detailed knowledge of Nature; living in place
        (bioregionalism); population self-regulation; respect for all life forms and their sacredness; a sustainable
        "harvest" of wildlife over thousands of years; and rituals that severely limit the destruction by humans of flora
        and fauna and the land itself. Obviously, this traditional native perspective has a great deal of compatibility
        with the eight-point platform of deep ecology.

            Some environmental organizations that promote environmental/aboriginal alliances elevate indigenous-
        centered social justice over environmental justice because they have a human-centered orientation to the
        natural world. They become in effect "solidarity" organizations. Social justice must be addressed by our deeds,
        not only our words, but it has to be accompanied by a deep ecology perspective. Otherwise, any exploitation
        of the natural world for human purposes can be justified.

        Beyond human-centeredness

            Deep ecology builds on, but extends beyond, traditional native thinking:
                   My own preliminary position is that deep ecology is a movement beyond indigenous attitudes to
                nature, which centre around human use, however respectfully carried out. One might characterize
                the best Native positions regarding relationships to the natural world as "deep stewardship" - a
                position that still remains human-centered. Although adequate for gathering and hunting societies
                with little technology and small numbers of people, it is not encompassing enough for the survival
                of the natural world in the 1990s.
(See David Orton "Envirosocialism: Contradiction or
  in Green On Red: Evolving Ecological Socialism, Society for Socialist Studies/
                Fernwood Publishing)

            David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, in their book Wisdom of the Elders, in an examination of a number of
        aboriginal views, write:
                    Aboriginal peoples' relationship with other life-forms comes from a deep respect that is
ultimately self-interested.

            This native human-centered world view believes that animal and plant life is on Earth for human use, as shown
        in some of the anthropological evidence introduced in support of the native food fishery in the well-known
        Canadian Supreme Court Sparrow Case. (The Sparrow court case has become the justification for the now
        official federal government Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy. See text of the 1990 Decision, Supreme Court of
        Canada "Ronald Edward Sparrow versus Her Majesty The Queen"):
                    The salmon was not only an important source of food but played an important part in the
                system of beliefs of the Salish people, and in their ceremonies. The salmon were held to be a
                race of beings that had, in "myth times," established a bond with human beings requiring the
                salmon to come each year to give their bodies to the humans who, in turn, treated them with
                respect shown by performance of the proper ritual. Towards the salmon, as toward other
                creatures, there was an attitude of caution and respect which resulted in effective conservation
                of the various species.

        This self-limiting human-centered "respect" is undermined and ultimately destroyed by capitalist industrialism,
        which turns all of Nature into commodities for sale in the market place.

            The dilemma for traditional native thinking is how does one "settle" with the dominant society, when this
        society defines legally what is and what is not acceptable for debate and negotiations? Unfortunately, the
        traditional world view is usually jettisoned in order to extract some recompense from the dominant society.
        Metis historian Olive Dickason in her progressive book, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding
        Peoples from Earliest Times
, quotes Cree lawyer Delia Opekokes, saying the concept of aboriginal rights,
                'recognizes our ownership over lands we have traditionally occupied and used and our control
                and ownership over the resources of the land - water, minerals, timber, wildlife and fisheries.'

        Beyond treaties

            To enter the judicial process to 'settle' land claims, to take part in the dominant paradigm of values, is to
        give up or go against the traditional native relationship to the land and accept the imposition of the values of the
        colonizers and of industrial society. Occupancy, even first human occupancy, cannot convey title to land. The
        aboriginal peoples of Canada who were themselves initially migrants from somewhere else - Asia - occupied
        the lands in this country; they did not "own" them.

            Treaties were originally, and are now, instruments for the colonizers to gain access to lands traditionally
        occupied by natives, and to the lands' wealth. Treaties have expedited the process. We cannot - nor should
        native peoples - accept the validity or relevance of treaties signed two or three hundred years ago by English
        or French feudal kings or queens, or appointees on their behalf. Eighteenth century treaties now in contention
        by Nova Scotia Micmacs, such as the Treaty of 1752, were "signed" on the aboriginal side by people unable
        to write or read the treaty language. Moreover, all the treaty language "agreed" to by the colonialists and the
        indigenous peoples presupposed a totally human-centered view of the natural world.

        Beyond land ownership and property rights

            Language embodies a world view which is often taken for granted, and frames a debate. Thus the wording
        of the expression "land claim" assumes in some way its justice. "Property rights" are the way a society
        organizes its affairs; they reflect the distribution of power and influence - the class structure - within a society.
        Insofar as they have been applied to Nature, such rights have presumed that one species - humans - has the
        right to decide whether or not other animal species, plant species, and the physical environment itself, have the
        "right" to live or die. Clearly, this is not an acceptable view for a deeper environmentalism. Humans cannot
        "own" the Earth. We make use of it, wisely or foolishly.

            Property rights vary from state, through communal, to individual ownership. Such rights are socially created
        and can therefore be socially redefined and changed. Social justice and justice for Nature within a society
        should be the criteria for evaluating so-called property rights. Court systems in all modern societies, including
        Canada, buttress property rights and defend the existing class structure, over human rights and the rights of

            The choice becomes then, whether to accept the property rights values, within which present debates are
        conducted (as with "buy back the dacks"), or to put forth an alternative vision of "rights," and socially
        mobilize for their implementation. The latter is the promise of a radical deep ecology. There can be no true
        resolution of past and present injustices against native peoples, and no sustainable land use practices or
        sustainable native or non-native communities, within a continuing industrial capitalist society.

        Land claims

            "Land claims" and "treaty rights" present conflicts when developing a wilderness strategy for Canada. Two
        very helpful recent (1993) discussion papers that raise these issues, and identify specific national and
        provincial parks subject to native land claims, are: Putting Nature First: Conservation Principles to Guide
        the Settlement of Aboriginal Land Claims
by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, and Protected Areas
        and Aboriginal Interests
in Canada by James Morrison for World Wildlife Fund Canada.

            The federal government in 1973 established a process to supposedly settle land claims outside of the "win or
        lose" court system, making the distinction between "comprehensive" and "specific" claims. Comprehensive
        claims concern lands never been covered by treaties,
                where the claimant seeks a negotiated settlement on the basis of unextinguished Aboriginal
                title arising from traditional use and occupancy of the land

            Comprehensive land claims cover very large land areas; for example, the first was the 1975 James Bay and
        Northern Quebec Agreement. First Nations have directed comprehensive land claims at Parks Canada
        concerning the Mingan Archipelago (Quebec), the Torngat and Mealey Mountains (Labrador), and Gwaii
        Haanas/South Moresby (B.C.). For much of the territory of northern Canada and much of British Columbia,
        comprehensive claims have now been settled or are in negotiation. Recently settled comprehensive land claims
        include Nunavut (eastern Arctic), Inuvialuit (western Arctic), and the Gwich'in lands (Yukon). Hundreds of
        millions of dollars have been paid out or committed for comprehensive claim settlements.

            Specific claims deal with unfulfilled treaty promises or government maladministration,
                where the claimant seeks a negotiated settlement arising from unfulfilled government
                obligations under treaties, agreements or statutes, or the improper administration of
               Indian lands and other assets under the Indian Act.

            First Nations have directed specific land claims at Parks Canada concerning the following parks: Banff (Alberta),
        Riding Mountain (Manitoba), Pukaskawa (Ontario), Bruce Peninsula (Ontario), and Point Pelee (Ontario). In
        addition to these federal parks, a number of provincial parks, including  Algonquin and Quetico in Ontario, are
        also subject to native land claims and thus to fundamental change. To take positions on the hundreds of
        outstanding specific land claims in Canada, biocentric non-native environmentalists need to look at First Nations'
        fundamental values and assumptions, asking, for instance, "can treaty rights and land claims be supported?" and
        also at their own values and assumptions.

        Why aboriginals generally oppose "allocations for nature"

            Native land claims, are often about the "harvest" of wildlife and "economic" opportunities. There seems to be
        little regard for sanctuaries - or what the Land Claims Work Group of the Federation of  Ontario Naturalists
        called "allocations for nature."

            Working against allocations for nature are the following factors:
        a. Aboriginal Canadians historically utilized and changed their natural surroundings.
        b. Traditional native territories often include existing provincial and federal parks and other protected areas, or
            some portion of them.
        c. Natives were often physically dislocated when parks or other protected areas were established.
        d. The primacy of treaty rights and land claims is asserted in the Canadian Constitution.
        e. Much crown, i.e. public, land covered in forests has been handed over to the forest industry, on long-term
            renewable leases.
        f. At least in southern Canada, most land "unoccupied" by humans, is in some kind of park status.

            For all of these reasons, in many parks indigenous rights to hunt, fish and trap as part of land claims are being
        pursued, and wilderness or wildlife sanctuaries closed to human "use" are being opposed. Governments at the
        federal and provincial levels seem increasingly willing to compromise the ecological integrity of the poorly
        defended parks system in Canada for native land claims. This is politically easier than changing or challenging
        the well-defended "allocations" of non-park crown land, which have been committed to the timber industry on
        a long-term basis. Generally, aboriginal peoples in Canada are asserting their "rights" to hunt, trap, and fish
        year-round, as in "traditional" times, but using modern technologies of destruction and transportation, and in a
        country now with a population of around 30 million people.

            However, the situation in the 1990's, because of human numbers and the habitat and wildlife destruction caused
        by industrial society, demands large wilderness areas without any industrial exploitation such as clearcut logging,
        mining, and hydro projects, and without human "harvesting" of animal and plant life. The basic conditions of
        biological life have to be given the opportunity to continue evolving. The general vision outlined in "The Wildlands
        Project: Plotting A North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy"
needs to be implemented on the ground.
        It is a necessary condition for ensuring the survival of all species on Earth, including Homo sapiens. This is the
        ecological context for addressing social justice for aboriginal Canadians.

        Ecological integrity given up

            In Canada's National Parks and reserves for National Parks north of the 60th parallel, aboriginals have the
        legislated right to "harvest" wildlife by hunting, trapping and fishing. In the south, only Pukaskwa National Park in
        Ontario presently allows this. However, ministerial discretion in the National Parks Act allows the federal
        government to authorize in any wilderness area "the carrying on of traditional renewable resource harvesting
Land claim settlements in northern Canada have accepted that aboriginal people can kill wildlife in
        protected areas.

            A posting on the electronic network in September of 1994 announced that the Canadian government is seeking
        an amendment to the Migratory Birds Convention (MBC):
                The MBC establishes a closed season between March 10 and September 1 each year. The intent
                of the closed season is to protect migratory birds from over-harvest by sport and commercial
                hunters, but the closed season also made certain traditional harvesting of migratory birds by
                Aboriginal people illegal.
               The primary amendment proposed by the Canadian government would provide for Aboriginal
                people in Canada to harvest, throughout the year, migratory birds for food, social and
               ceremonial purposes, subject to conservation and allowing for the existing Aboriginal and treaty
                rights protected in the Constitution of Canada.

            The maintenance of ecological integrity, which is supposed to be the first consideration in any national park
        management plan, has essentially been abandoned. The following is stated in the current (1994) Guiding Principles
        and Operational Policies of Parks Canada
                In parks where there are existing Aboriginal or treaty rights, the exercise of these rights will be
                respected. As well, in some national parks, traditional activities by Aboriginal peoples will continue
                as a result of rights defined by land claim agreements and treaties, or by specific agreements
                negotiated during the process of park establishment. Given the legislative and constitutional basis
               of such agreements, they are expected to supersede Parks Canada policy and in some instances will
                consequently amend the National Parks Act.

            An acceptance of the validity of land claims and treaty rights - based on the premise that aboriginal peoples in
        some way "owned" the land now called Canada and therefore must be compensated today - justifies aboriginal
        peoples' many assertions. If the logic is followed through, "inherent" rights, i.e. rights by virtue of being an
        aboriginal people, mean that aboriginals do not need agreements with federal or provincial governments
        regarding hunting, fishing, trapping, taxes, education, or the like. From such a perspective, making agreements
        with the federal or provincial government means not recognizing inherent rights! Notwithstanding grievous
        historical wrongs however, an endorsement of such aboriginal views today is at the expense of Nature as well
        as non-native Canadian society.

        Fur trapping and parks

            Access to furs was a major reason for European entry into Canada. The resulting introduction of the "fur trade"
        totally changed the aboriginal lifestyle away from self-sufficiency to one of dependency and subordination to the
        European colonizers for various trading goods. The fur trade undermined the self-restraint of the native deep
        stewardship relationship to wild animals. Fur bearing animals became "commodities" for a market. Also, many
        native people were killed in fighting over control of the fur trade between the British and French colonial powers.
        Given this history, it is bewildering that many native and non-native mainstream environmental spokespersons
        defend fur trapping as crucial to the indigenous way of life.

            We should oppose commercial fur trapping, commercial hunting, and management of wildlife for commercial
        purposes. Personally, I do not oppose trapping or hunting or fishing by aboriginal Canadians, for personal or
        community use, as part of a traditional lifestyle - provided it is carried out in a context of the new awareness and
        knowledge being gained from conservation and restoration biology today.

            Algonquin Park is one of Canada's many ostensibly protected areas now exploited by trappers. This much-
        loved Ontario park was established in 1893. Used in various basically harmless ways by hundreds of thousands
        of Canadians, and stamped in the contemporary Canadian soul by landscape painters like Tom Thomson, it is
        the last ecosystem in southern Ontario where natural processes have a chance of functioning normally. (Wolves
        crossing the park boundaries in winter in pursuit of deer regularly get shot, showing the need for extensive buffer
        zones surrounding parks, with controlled human, wildlife-friendly, land use.) The Algonquins of Golden Lake have
        made an extensive land claim - about 36,000 square kilometres, covering much of the Ottawa Valley, and taking
        over the administration and control of Algonquin Park. Greg Sarazin, spokesperson for the tribe has written (see
        the 22-page document "220 Years of Broken Promises", no date):
                In 1954 a new regime of fur management in Algonquin Park arrived. The government realized
                that proper harvesting of fur-bearing animals would strengthen the populations and ensure their
                survival - something the Indians always knew. The entire eastern half of the park was opened to
                the trappers from Golden lake (and only to them) and, ever since, each trapline has been in full
                use and occupation.

            The idea that trapping and hunting are needed to maintain the balance of nature is also repeated by non-native
        killers of wildlife in seeking to continue their practices. Native and non-native biocentrists need to step forward in
        unity and become vocal spokespersons for the wildlife of Algonquin, lest plant and animal 'voices' become
        drowned out in the carving up of this park.


            In forestry, natives and their non-native environmentalist allies seem to face these choices:
        - Natives can seek a place within the existing industrial forestry model, which destroys ecosystems and
        human communities, but which can disburse some economic benefits. Buffy Sainte-Marie has a line in her song
        "Disinformation" that seems appropriate here - "to make the same old mistakes in a brand new way."
        - Aboriginals can define their own alternative forestry perspective.
        - Aboriginals can unite with the deep ecology forestry alternative which is struggling to emerge in practice and

            Non-native forestry activists must be clear about their own path, and about which path potential native allies
        have embarked upon.

            The dominant First Nations trend in forestry in Canada now, is participation within the industrial forestry
        paradigm. An article outlining an Aboriginal Forest Strategy, presented by Harry Bombay, the President of the
        National Aboriginal Forestry Association (NAFA), in the 1994 Spring/Summer issue of the trade magazine
        Canadian Silviculture, makes this quite clear. He offers no critique of clearcutting or forestry biocide use, but
        endorses 'sustainable development': continued economic growth in the forest industry.

            NAFA made an August 1993 intervention to the Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, called
        "Forest Lands And Resources For Aboriginal Peoples." In it, NAFA argued for an "aboriginal forest
and sought "co-management" of "natural resources" with the timber and pulp companies and
        governments. The flawed assumption in their intervention was that the forest industry as it exists today can
        accommodate and respect aboriginal values. Other Canadian examples of native participation within the
        dominant industrial forestry paradigm, supported by some non-native environmentalists and organizations,
        include participation in the federal government's Model Forest Program, participation in the "Interim Measures
        Agreement on Clayoquot Sound"
, and the 'Sustainable Development' Agreement of the Algonquins of
        Barriere Lake in La Verendrye Park in Quebec. Corporations are interested in access to forests, not necessarily
        in ownership of forested land. Therefore when public pressure builds in support of "settling" land claims,
        corporations will accept such settlements provided they are permitted continuing access to turn trees into
        industrial commodities, as in Clayoquot Sound.

            The Aboriginal Forest Strategy evolved from within native thinking and is not official government policy. The
        Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy is federal government policy and is being implemented across Canada. Both
        Strategies assume participation within the industrial capitalist model - the very model that is destroying the forests
        and the fisheries in Canada.

        The Deep Ecology Forestry Alternatives

            There are two contrasting paths to follow. One is a reformist path, which defines some kind of eco-forestry and
        its certification, within the existing industrial system. "Renegade" foresters are active on this path. Journals like the
        International Journal of  Ecoforestry serve as a vehicle to express the reformist deep ecology, "eco-forestry
        within the system" position. The other path, less well developed, and in the left biocentric camp, states that a
        "sustainable forestry requires a sustainable society." It calls for, and is working toward, the dismantling of existing
        industrial society as part of a deep ecology forestry strategy.


            From an ecocentric perspective, we need total land reform in Canada and throughout the world, so that land,
        water, and air are seen as the common inheritance of all living beings. So-called private, native, or crown (state)
        property "rights" are ecologically meaningless. Non-native environmentalists seeking unity with aboriginal peoples
        to create a North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy need to make the distinction between a native rights
        agenda and a native land or land claims agenda. Native rights to full self-governed participation in Canadian
        society must be supported. But if one believes, as ecocentrists do, that the Earth "belongs" to no one, not even to
        aboriginal peoples, then often land claims and native views on non-human species must be opposed.

                                                                                                                                    March 1995

                        The following persons read the draft and contributed their ideas to the perspective presented:
                        Helga Hoffmann, Billy MacDonald, Philip Fleischer, Ian Whyte and Dan Bourque.

                    This article was printed in Wild Earth magazine in the Fall 1995 issue. Wild Earth is published
                    quarterly by the Cenozoic Society, Inc., POB 455, Richmond, Vermont 05477, U.S.A. The article
                    was also part of the material  making up a Discussion Paper for a panel debate/discussion at the
                    Learned Societies Conference, on June 5th 1995, in Montreal, on the topic "The environment and
                    he relations with First Nations."
This Learneds session was co-sponsored by the Society for
                    Socialist Studies and the Environmental Studies Association of Canada.

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