Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
The Canadian boreal forest spans over three million square kilometres as the largest intact forest on earth. Perhaps overwhelmed by this vastness, Canadian settlers often describe the subarctic boreal forest and muskeg (bog) in northern Alberta as a nothing-place; a wasteland (Brynne Voyles 2015), comprised of mosquitos and loneliness that is best dewatered, mulched, and mined to gain access to the bituminous underground. In “In Defence of the Wastelands: A Survival Guide,” Nēhiyaw (Cree) writer Erica Violet Lee (2016) explains, “To provide care in the wastelands is about gathering enough love to turn devastation into mourning and then, maybe, turn that mourning into hope”. During community-based environmental monitoring of forest foods for contaminants in Alberta’s oil sands, my sakâwiyiniwak (Northern Bush Cree) research collaborators have taught me about an ethics of care for the landscape based on its sentience. Tending to protocols of respect and reciprocity illuminates the magic of tiny orchids, a sheen on berries, and the crunch of antler-like caribou lichen. In an ethnoecological context, checking on and caring for the boreal forest serves as a metaphor for tending to our relations, or a relational ethics—that Indigenous peoples of the region have practiced for endless generations, ensuring their survival. Loving attentiveness to kin and forest kin alike prevents overharvesting. If, through meaningful consultation and reconciliation sakâwiyiniwak cycles of respect with forest food and medicine could only just enchant colonial governments, this magic in the muskeg would prevent extreme extraction and destruction of the boreal forest.