Biological Diversity Ecosystem Condition and Productivity Soil and Water Role in Global Ecological Cycles Economic and Social Benefits Society's Responsibility
Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Aboriginal Traditional Land Use and Forest-based Ecological Knowledge Forest Community Well-being and Resilience Fair and Effective Decision Making Informed Decision Making
Indicator 6.1.1 Extent of consultation with Aboriginals in forest management planning and in the development of policies and legislation related to forest management Indicator 6.1.2 Area of forest land owned by Aboriginal peoples
6.1 Aboriginal and Treaty Rights
There are approximately 734 000 registered Indians across Canada, 53% of whom live on reserve in about 614 communities. Approximately 80% of these communities are located in forest areas and many depend on forest-based activities to secure their economic and social well-being. Since Aboriginal rights1 are enshrined in the constitution,2 the Crown has a legal duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples in situations where these rights may be infringed. Aboriginal peoples are keen to be consulted and involved in the development of any forest policies and activities that might affect their communities or traditional lands.

There is growing awareness of the need for sustainable forest management to recognize Aboriginal peoples’ rights and to protect their traditional way of life and uses of the forests, including subsistence fishing, hunting, and trapping. Element 6.1 measures the extent to which forest management and planning processes throughout the country consider and meet the legal obligations of Canada’s various jurisdictions with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights. It also reports on the evolving and growing ownership of forest lands by Aboriginal people in Canada.

To meet their legal obligations (Indicator 6.1.1), jurisdictions must consult with the Aboriginal communities, and other groups and communities, that would be affected by forest policy, management, planning, and activities. Forest management plans should reflect the options considered and actions taken with respect to Aboriginal and treaty rights. However, measuring progress toward this goal is difficult because of the changing interpretations of those rights and the evolving forms of comanagement between Aboriginal people, provincial governments, and the forest industry. In general, there have been significant improvements over the last several years in the ways that jurisdictions, and the forest industry, consult with Aboriginal people in forest management planning.

Clear property rights and use, and the assurance that these rights will be recognized through due process, are also important for sustainable forestry (Indicator 6.1.2). If ownership of the forest or access to its resources is assured to those who depend on it for subsistence or other needs, there is a greater probability that these users will ensure the sustainability of the resource. Land claims and treaty land entitlements are on-going processes and, as claims are resolved, Aboriginal peoples are gaining increasing ownership of land. This ownership offers a level of control over resource access that cannot be secured on crown lands or on comanaged lands. It also provides significant long-term sustainable employment opportunities and the opportunity to integrate their traditional values into the land planning process.

Despite the progress made under this element, challenges remain. For instance, there is a need for better and updated information on the amount of forest land owned by Aboriginal people in Canada.

In some cases, the data are over 10 years old. Furthermore, the development of a database that describes the various attributes, such as size, ownership, and location, of the forest land base owned by Aboriginal people would assist in determining the extent to which this segment of the population is becoming more involved in sustainable forest management in Canada.

This improved data, combined with the continued determination of Canada’s governments and forest industry to increase Aboriginal involvement in sustainable forest management, will ensure the increased participation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian economy, and the economic and social well-being of their communities.

1 Aboriginal rights refer to general rights, typically defined by the constitution or federal legislation ascribed to Indian peoples or First Nations. The term “First Nation” came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word “Indian”. Although “First Nation” is widely used, it has yet to be legally defined. Among its uses, the term “First Nations people” refers to the Indian people in Canada, both Status and non-Status. Many Indian people have also adopted the term “First Nation” to replace the word “band” in the name of their community. Aboriginal rights vary according to group depending on the customs, practices, and traditions that are part of their distinctive cultures.

2 Aboriginal people, as defined by the Constitution Act (1982), include the Indian, Métis, and Inuit peoples of Canada.