The relationship between Indigenous people and boreal landscapes have been developing and
evolving for thousands of years in North America. However, industrial development and climate
change drive rapid land transformations, triggering this millennial relationship. The dialog
between Indigenous and scientific communities leads to a deeper perspective on environmental
changes and better-informed land management practices. Seen here is a cabin on the Kistabish
family hunting ground (Abitibiwinni First Nation) near the Allard river in boreal Quebec, Canada

Photo credit: Annie Claude Bélisle

By Annie Claude Bélisle, Sylvie Gauthier, and Hugo Asselin.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Climate change, forestry, mining and energy production deeply transform sub-arctic ecosystems. These changes have major consequences on the relationship Indigenous people have with their traditional lands. Understanding, forecasting, and adapting to environmental changes are necessary for the land to keep sustaining Indigenous wellbeing, and achieving these goals relies on ecological knowledge. Indigenous communities hold detailed and long-term ecological knowledge, acquired through generations of living on the land. Academic researchers are active in northern environments, modelling forest growth and management, studying biodiversity and forecasting climate changes.  

Although the complementarity of Indigenous and scientific ecological knowledge is generally recognized, they arise from different perspectives on the environment and their weaving is a delicate exercise. In this research, we addressed the similarities and differences between the perspectives of Indigenous and scientific communities on the effects of environmental changes. We paired interviews and participatory mapping with land-use experts from two Indigenous communities in Quebec (Canada), and a systematic review of the publication topics of active researchers in the region. The extensive influence of forestry, including forest harvesting and forest road development, was common to both perspectives. Indigenous experts were specifically concerned by the effects of mining, energy development and more generally by the loss of naturalness. Academic experts were more concerned by the effects of climate change and forest fires, and by forest soils.   

Collaboration between Indigenous and scientific communities will be necessary to address the challenges of environmental changes. This research contributes to breaking down some barriers that oppose such collaboration by explicitly addressing the similarities and differences between the Indigenous and scientific perspectives on northern environments.