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Canada's Boreal Forest

The boreal (northern) forest is Canada's largest environmental landscape, covering 32-35% of all Canadian land area and 77% of Canada's total forest land. Boreas, the Greek god of the North Wind, provides the name for the Canadian forest. The boreal forest stretches between northern tundra and southern grassland as well as mixed hardwood trees. The animals, plants, and products of the boreal forest affect Canadians on a daily basis, from paper products, to the jack pine railway ties, and to the quality of air breathed.

Beginning with the Yukon Territory, the boreal forest creates a swath nearly 1000 kms (621 miles) wide heading southeast to Newfoundland and Labrador. The treeline dominates the northern portion and beyond the treeline, the tundra of the arctic predominates. In the southern area, the boreal forest is bordered by the subalpine and montane forests of British Columbia, as well as the grasslands of the Prairie Provinces, and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forests of Ontario and Quebec.

According to the authors of the article on which HC 041244-452 is based, the Aboriginal peoples of the Canadian boreal forest belong to two major linguistic groups. Peoples of the Algonquian linguistic group (Mi'kmaq, Malecite, Abenaki, Penobscot, Innu/Montagnais, Cree, Atikamekw, Algonquin/Anishinabe, Ojibwa/Anishinabe, Chippewa) occupy the central and eastern boreal forest, and the peoples of the Athapaskan linguistic group (Chipewyan, Dene, Gwich'in, Sekani) reside in the northwestern boreal forest.

The early Aboriginal peoples perceived the boreal forest as a world rather than simply as a landscape full of resources. The boreal forest formed a complex, natural support system for the foundation of their lives. Food, materials for shelter, clothing, transportation, tools, crafts, and medicines were furnished by the forest. The forest was also the source of their spirituality. For the Aboriginal peoples, all things, animals, trees, plants, rocks, and lakes, possessed spirits akin to their own. Since the surrounding world was imbued with these spirits, the natural world provided guidance for a harmonious life.

Future decisions regarding the conservation and sustainability of, as well as the financial impacts on, this diverse landscape could benefit from this worldview.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor