On December 17, 2013 the Whitefeather Forest Initiative Steering Group of Elders hosted a feast to celebrate the milestone success of students from Pikangikum who completed studies for future careers in resource stewardship. Visitors, including guests from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources also joined in the feast with the Chief of Pikangikum, Paddy Peters. They gathered with other visitors, including from Sweden, to celebration the achievement of the students and Elders and to look to future economic renewal supported by the Keeping the Land stewardship tradition of the First Nation that is embodied by the Elders.
The celebration marked the successful conclusion of a project to integrate the rich Indigenous Knowledge tradition held by the Elders with the Forest Ecosystem Management program of Confederation College. The Whitefeather Forest Indigenous Knowledge curriculum project was made possible through the generous support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Pikangikum First Nation, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. Five students from Pikangikum have now completed their College diploma studies and co-op work placement in a learning setting that was enriched by the wisdom of the Elders and other bush experts from Pikangikum.
This milestone achievement of five students from one First Nation simultaneously completing the Forest Ecosystem Management diploma program and integrating the Indigenous Knowledge tradition of the community marked the completion of the first step of realizing the educational vision of Pikangikum Elders for the Whitefeather Forest Initiative. This vision was first articulated by Elder Lucy Strang and her sister, the late Elder Ellen Peters. The vision, embraced by all of the Elders of the Whitefeather Forest Initiative Steering Group, is one where two knowledge traditions are brought together in balance and harmony. Over the years, Elder Lucy has stated many times that the full richness of the knowledge and stewardship tradition of her people should continue to guide new land-based economic renewal opportunities, including in indigenous-led forestry and tourism. This rich tradition can be strengthened by the best of western science through an approach of balance. Community-based delivery of the diploma program is what allowed the integration of Indigenous Knowledge of Pikangikum people specific to the ancestral lands.
Five students have now completed the classroom and co-op components of the Forest Ecosystem Management program. During program delivery they were able to learn about resource management from both the College Instructors, and from their own Elders and other bush experts. The potential of Elders including Matthew Strang and Kitchi Jake Quill having taught the students subjects such as customary indigenous prescribed burning as a resource management tool, cannot be underestimated in the future management of forestry in the context of the Whitefeather Forest Initiative. The Elders are determined that their forest will be sustained as an indigenous cultural landscape in the future just as they have kept and nurtured the gifts of the land that were given to their ancestors by the Creator.
Congratulations were given to the to the students at the feast – Murray Quill, Darrell Keeper, Valerie King, Warren Keeper and Max King – who persevered and completed their program. Head Trapper Timmy K. Strang was also honoured for his critical support to the diploma program and Indigenous Knowledge Curriculum project. Where else could Forest Ecoystem Management students have been able to combine learning in the areas of landscape ecology, animal biology, bush safety and navigation on the land in the context of killing and butchering a moose and helping to feed Pikangikum people? Timmy K. Strang made all of this possible and more in his role as Community Facilitator for the project. Doug Gilmore from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources presented a plaque to Timmy in recognition of this work.
The feast was also the opportunity to congratulate all the Elders and other bush experts, who gave of their time and knowledge to ensure that the students’ education included the Pikangikum customary resource management tradition. The Whitefeather Forest Initiative is now ready to move on in realizing the vision of Elder Lucy Strang for her forest-based teaching centre which will support future learning of Pikangikum people and others from around the world.