Tshaukuesh begins her spring walk (meshkanu) into the country. Photo: Camille Fouillard.

Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Penashue, an Innu elder from Sheshatshiu, calls the boreal forests of eastern Labrador home. Her published diaries witness to her decades-long care of family, community and the lands and waters of her homeland (Penashue 2019). Many other Indigenous voices across Canada witness to the importance of Indigenous protected and conserved areas as a path to reconciliation (Moola & Roth 2019).

The boreal region is home to many people – northern forest-dependent communities and hundreds of Indigenous communities. People know they need to protect their homeland, to seek ways of living that respects integral ecology in this vast region.

Tucked between the arctic tundra to the north and the temperate forests and grasslands to the south, the great boreal biome circles the globe as a halo of green and blue. Named after Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, the boreal region holds about 30% of the world’s forests (Gauthier et al. 2015). The coniferous pine, spruce, larch and fir mix with the deciduous birch, aspen and poplar to create one of the great forest regions of the world. Given its relative remoteness and low population density, the boreal region boasts an ecological integrity with abundant wildlife, intact ecosystems and unparalleled fresh water sources (Wells et al. 2020).

The boreal region plays a significant role in global climate dynamics, storing about 30-40% of the globe’s terrestrial carbon (Bradshaw & Warkentin 2015; Pan et al. 2011; Walker et al. 2019). Recent research has documented the increasing importance of boreal forests as a global terrestrial carbon sink relative to tropical forests (Tagesson et al. 2020) because of vast, largely intact boreal peatlands. Canada alone is home to 25% of the world’s northern peatland, holding the world’s largest peatland carbon stock, particularly in the Hudson Bay lowlands (Harris et al. 2021).

After the 2019 Synod on the Amazon Region, Pope Francis offered his reflections in the post-apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia. His opening statement offered a fresh vision of the globe’s biomes; The beloved Amazon region stands before the world in all its splendour, its drama and its mystery (Querida Amazonia #1).

Imagine if we viewed the boreal region in the same way. Imagine if we considered the boreal region as the “beloved boreal.” What a difference that would make. If we continue to consider the boreal region as simply a storehouse of natural resources in a remote, northern, sparsely-populated land of bush and swamp – then avarice and greed will be our constant companions. But, if we view the boreal region as a beloved boreal where divine Love is revealed, we will act accordingly.

All landscapes, if experienced and lived long enough, eventually become inscapes. Spaces become places, places of meaning, places of salvation (Williams et al. 2013). Landscapes become meaningful. They define our visions, what questions we pose, what hopes we dream. That’s why people who have an Indigenous intimacy with lands and waters, skies and seas, have come to a depth of wisdom. The land can no longer be simply “swamp and bush” but becomes a home, a place where wisdom lies, a place that elicits dreams and hopes. This is what we seek for the Boreal Forest, that we consider it our home.

References:

Bradshaw, C.J.A. and I.G. Warkentin. 2015. Global estimates of boreal forest carbon stocks and flux. Global and Planetary Change 128: 24-30.

Gauthier, S., P. Bernier, T. Kuuluvainen, A.Z. Shvidenko, and D.G. Schepaschenko. 2015. Boreal forest health and global change. Science 349: 819-822.

Harris, L.I., K. Richardson, K.A. Bona, S.J. Davidson, S.A. Finkelstein, M. Garneau, J. McLaughlin, F. Nwaishi, D. Olefeldt, M. Packalen, N.T. Roulet, F.M. Southee, M. Strack, K.L. Webster, S.L. Wilkinson, and J.C. Ray. 2021. The essential carbon service provided by northern peatlands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2437.

Moola, F. and R. Roth. 2019. Moving beyond colonial conservation models: Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas offer hope for biodiversity and advancing reconciliation in the Canadian boreal forest. Environmental Reviews 27: 200-201.

Pan, Y., R.A. Birdsey, J. Fang, R. Houghton, P.E. Kauppi, W.A. Kurz, O.L. Phillips, A. Shvidenko, S.L. Lewis, J.G. Canadell, P. Ciais, R.B. Jackson, S.W. Pacala, A.D. McGuire, S. Piao, A. Rautiainen, S. Sitch, and D. Hayes. 2011. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world's forests. Science 333: 988-993.

Penashue, T.E. 2019. Nitinikian Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg.

Tagesson, T., G. Schurgers, S. Horion, P. Ciais, F. Tian, M. Brandt, A. Ahlström, J.-P. Wigneron, J. Ardö, S. Olin, L. Fan, Z. Wu, and R. Fensholt. 2020. Recent divergence in the contributions of tropical and boreal forests to the terrestrial carbon sink. Nature Ecology & Evolution 4(2): 202-209. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-1090-0.

Walker, X.J., J.L. Baltzer, S.G. Cumming, N.J. Day, C. Ebert, S. Goetz, J.F. Johnstone, S. Potter, B.M. Rogers, E.A.G. Schuur, M.R. Turetsky, and M.C. Mack. 2019. Increasing wildfires threaten historic carbon sink of boreal forest soils. Nature 572(7770): 520-523. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1474-y.

Wells, J.V., N. Dawson, N. Culver, F.A. Reid, and S. Morgan Siegers. 2020. The state of conservation in North America's boreal forest: Issues and opportunities. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 3: Article 90. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2020.00090.

Williams, D.R., W.P. Stewart, and L.E. Kruger. 2013. The emergence of place-based conservation. In Place-Based Conservation: Perspectives from the Social Sciences. Edited by W.P. Stewart, D.R. Williams, and L.E. Kruger. Springer, Dordrecht. pp. 1-17.

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