As the original inhabitants of the place that today we call British Columbia (BC), First Nations are the holders of thousands of years of traditional knowledge about these lands. Although there is no universally accepted definition of traditional knowledge, the Assembly of First Nations says it is commonly understood as “the collective knowledge of traditions used by Indigenous groups to sustain and adapt themselves to their environment over time.” This knowledge is deeply rooted in First Nations history and culture and is passed down through generations.
Today we often talk about sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as it has been defined by the United Nationsʼ Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Increasingly, we are discovering the linkages between traditional knowledge and the call for more sustainable practices. Yet, to a large extent, the western world has been slow to incorporate this knowledge into natural management approaches. However, with the growing role of First Nations in the forest sector, the acknowledgement of rights and title, and the leadership of First Nations in land use planning, traditional knowledge is beginning to take its rightful place—assuming a larger role in the environmental conversation among industry, academia, and government.
A First Nations forester turns to traditional knowledge and new technology for wiser resource management. Photo: Matt Wealick
Matt Wealick is a member of the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe near Chilliwack in BC’s Fraser Valley. Their territory is over 95,000 hectares and is “rich in Ts’elxwéyeqw cultural history, natural beauty, and resources.” Their mission is “to achieve strength, unity, and success by managing natural and cultural resources for the well-being of our people and our environment.”
Wealick’s family has a long history rooted in the forestlands of BC. His father worked in forestry, which led him to northern Vancouver Island, where Wealick grew up—deep in the heart of the forest industry. After spending several years on logging crews and as a professional hockey player, he earned his bachelor of science in forestry, and later a master of arts in environment and management. Today he is a Registered Professional Forester.