Indigenous knowledge and forest use – The adaptability of the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci (Québec) to survive in forest ruins

As part of a research cooperation between AgroParisTech and Université Laval (Québec), supported by the Programme Samuel-De Champlain (scientific cooperation France-Québec), Léna Conti did her Master 2-internship in TESS. In spring 2019 she did a 2-months fieldwork in Wemotaci, a community of the Atikamekw First Nation.

In Quebec assimilation and dispossession of indigenous’ lands, forced by colonization as well as the overexploitation of forests, have disturbed First Nations relationships with their territory. The purpose of this research was firstly to describe Atikamekw’s ecological knowledge and forest uses, and secondly to understand how the Atikamekw community from Wemotaci, recommit itself in its ancestral territory, adapt itself and confront to commercial forestry.

Léna Conti interviewed members of the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci, researchers, representatives of the Government and forest industries.

Her results showed that on the ruins left by colonisation and forestry, Atikamekw people have created new agencies with the boreal forest. They mobilize both old and modern knowledge. For instance women’s knowledge about medicinal plants revealed the contemporary change in the relationship between the Atikamekw and their territory. New spaces of transmission of knowledge and uses have been invented. New activities have been (re)created, hybridized or inspired by other indigenous communities. These reorganizations will continue to evolve and are the symbol of a forest life that remains.

Local consultation on forest management by the government are a step forward in the history of Native – non-Native relationships. However, the Atikamekw can still poorly influence commercial forestry which does not meet their aspirations. If this community already carries the weight of colonialism and capitalism, they are now forced to carry a second burden: the responsibility to change things to make their needs and values heard and continue to live « in the woods« .

Fishing in the Saint Maurice river
Cleaning a moose skin for making a drum
Picking morels from the pickup
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