Since time immemorial, plants have served people around the world for food, shelter, transportation and healing purposes. Today, the boreal forest is still a source of many products we need for survival.
The Lac-Saint-Jean Model Forest is located in the heart of the great Canadian boreal forest in Eastern Canada. It operates under a unique and innovative partnership in which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants have equal responsibility. The region is home to the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh, one of the largest Aboriginal groups in Quebec and made up of nine First Nations, including the Pekuakami.
The Model Forest recently published a guidebook, Savoirs des Pekuakamiulnuatsh sur les plantes médicinales (Pekuakami First Nation knowledge on medicinal plants), which documents Aboriginal traditional knowledge with respect to cultural and medicinal practices related to the use of plants by the Pekuakami First Nation.
The guidebook highlights 27 plants in the region. The project meets an urgent need to document traditional knowledge and practices that are at risk of disappearing. It also helps to ensure access and transmission of the traditional knowledge of Aboriginal peoples.
The project originally began as research for a Master’s thesis by Géraldine Laurendeau (who studied Ethnology at Laval University in Quebec) for the Association du Parc Sacré, a non-profit organization that works to collect and disseminate traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in the region. In her thesis, she reveals:
Knowledge on the healing properties of Native Plants has been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, and often acquired through a long process of trial and error. The use of pine gum and spruce to treat cuts, burns, abscesses and to make potions against coughs are practices still in use today in Pekuakamiulnuatsh, as revealed by interviews with elders.
Ms. Laurendeau began the research in 2010 using interviews and plant identification excursions in the forest carried out with the participation of traditional knowledge bearers and community elders.
And in June 2013, the Lac Saint-Jean Model Forest organized a symposium titled, Traditional Knowledge and Indigenous Territory. The event, which was attended by over 200 people from as far as British Columbia and Arizona, offered an opportunity to enrich relationships between researchers, professionals and community members interested in documenting traditional knowledge and practices.
The research team collected information on 84 plant species and, in addition to the guidebook, developed a database with more detailed information on each plant. 1000 copies of the guidebook were published. Serge Harvey, General Manager of the Lac-Saint-Jean Model Forest, explains, “We will distribute 500 books, free, to community members. The profits from the sale of the remaining books will go to the Mashteuiatsh Native Museum in Mashteuiatsh, Québec to cover the costs of holding the collection of associated archives and making the database available to the community.”
Through research, experimentation and communication, the Lac-Saint Jean Model Forest is committed to developing tools, knowledge and skills to enable communities to promote and integrate new practices in the development of the region.
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