Wabanaki Forest

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Wabanaki Forest by Lower Trout Lake on the Chebucto Peninsula 
Click on images for larger versions

On June 21, 2024, we in the northern hemisphere celebrated the summer solstice, as our ancestors have done since prehistoric times.

Since June 21, 2017, the day is also known as Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day:

In cooperation with Indigenous organizations, the Government of Canada chose June 21, the summer solstice, for National Aboriginal Day, now known as National Indigenous Peoples Day. For generations, many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year.

Just over the last three years, the day has gained a deeper meaning for Canadians of settler lineage  as we began to seriously reflect on a dark truth about the country most of us have viewed as so embracing of peoples of all races and cultures: our collective role historically and ongoing in the debasement, indeed attempted genocide, of our indigenous peoples.

There has been a massive shift in our (settler) relationship with our indigenous peoples since then. While we have a long way yet to go, we are far more humble in our views of Canada as a multicultural nation and much more wanting to work for true reconciliation with our indigenous peoples.

And we have  gained immeasurably by opening our eyes to the true gift of the care of our  land by indigenous peoples past and present, and have begun to seek their guidance and collaboration as we try to heal the damage we have inflicted on these lands beginning in 1604.

One change many of us have made following the lead, amongst  settler peoples, of  Community Forests International is to view and appreciate our forest as the Wabanaki forest or for some, the Wabanaki (Acadian) forest rather than the Acadian forest.

I was made aware of the almost perfect overlap between the boundaries of the Acadian Forest and the lands occupied by peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy by Shalan Joudry in a presentation she gave at the  MTRI Old Forest Conference in the fall of 2016.

Shalan described the excitement she felt when she first saw a map of the Acadian Forest in Jamie Simpson’s Restoring the Acadian Forest (1st ed. 2008, 2nd Ed. 2015)  and realized that the distribution of the Acadian forest corresponds closely to Wabanaki Territory (see e.g. map at Abbe Museum), the lands occupied by peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Wabanaki means “People of the Dawn” and as I understand it, Wapane’kati, “Land of the Dawn”. Mi’kmaq people understood Wapane’kati as the place where people first welcome the sun on behalf of rest of the peoples of Turtle Island (North America).

What a wonderful view of this part of the world. Now I will think of it when I witness the sunrise. How better could the connection between peoples and the land be illustrated than by the occurrence a particular group of people on landscapes of a particular forest type? – from Connecting to Wapane’kati. Post on NSFN oct 23, 2016

Re-Presenting the Wapane’kati Forest Region, from Shalan Joudry Puktewei: Learning from fire in Mi’kma’ki (Mi’kmaq Territory)

Later in the fall of 2016, Shalan’s Master of Environmental Studies thesis, Puktewei: Learning from fire in Mi’kma’ki (Mi’kmaq Territory) was posted on Dalspace (Dalhousie’s Digital Archives). In the  thesis, Shalan takes the reader with her on her journey to explore the interaction between indigenous and scientific ways of learning about our world. It’s rewarding and a pleasure to read and I have gone back to it many times.

The map at  right is taken from the thesis; I wanted to use it in a presentation I made to Nature Nova Scotia’s 2022 Celebration of Nature  and I wrote Shalan to ask if that would be OK. Her reply provided some further context to the name ‘Wabanaki Forest’:

Yes, of course you’re welcome to share the image and mention it…

I did say in my thesis that I assumed the right Smith-Francis orthography would be Wapane’kati, but a fluent speaker thought that maybe ‘e’kati might be for more specific (smaller area) location names. And maybe ‘akadie or ‘aki are for larger regions (like Wabanaki). Also, some people put a vowel in between “pn” in the second syllable and some people don’t put a vowel there. There are a few more variant pronunciations and spellings… as our languages are still orally-based so that diversity is there. I hope that comes up whenever someone asks about variations, such as:
They are all the same… “place-of-dawn” in some variation.

Sometime after Shalan’s presentation in 2016, I saw a book of her poetry at Bookmark in Halifax (a treasure of a bookstore): Generations Re-Merging (Gaspereau Press, 2014). It is also rewarding and a pleasure to read and re-read, starting with  the Prologue:

Each generation must make their own journey through a thick terrain.

How ever we get lost along the way, let us rejoice in the healing steps that follow.

I hope we all continue to gather at the edge of the woods where the generations before us and after us re-merge.

Surely those are words that speak to all of us.


Yellow Birch (left) and Eastern Hemlock on a mound in the area of Sandy lake (Bedford), June 21, 2017

On the day of the  summer solstice in 2017, I was exploring some residual riparian forest in an area by Sandy Lake (Bedford) that had been clearcut in 2013 and encountered a yellow birch and a hemlock that seemed to be growing from the same base, their trunks ascending to the skies in tandem. I immediately thought of it  as an “Acadian Forest Love Affair” (now of course  I  call it a Wabanaki Forest Love Affair).

Subsequently, with my eyes wide open to this forest affair, I viewed many more such unions and searched for any related information in the scientific literature. Eventually, I came up with an ecological explanation for this often intimate association of Yellow Birch and Eastern hemlock in our Wabanaki forest.

In the process, I also discovered that Mi’kmaq artisan and elder Todd Labrador had talked about how his father used to tell him “the trees hold hands beneath the forest floor”:

The physical embrace of roots of Yellow Birch and Eastern Hemlock is exposed here, the mound  which once covered them having eroded away.

Labrador’s father used to tell him the trees hold hands beneath the forest floor.

“They’re supporting each other. Their hands and their roots are intertwined. He said nature is sending us the message that we as human beings need to do the same, regardless of colour of skin, regardless of religion, race,” Labrador says.

“If we come together and hold hands and support each other, we’ll be much stronger. He said that’s the message that Mother Nature is constantly telling us, but only some of us will hear that message, a lot of us won’t. – Todd Labrador

From Finding their root (CBC Interactive by Elizabeth McMillan, Oct 2017)

Enjoy the Solstice.

I hope you will also enjoy many days in our
truly wonderful Wabanki forest.

David P
This page was adapted from Our Wabanaki Forest 21Jun2022,
a post on Nova Scotia Forest Notes on June 21, 2022

From Day 200 at the Last Hope camp (post on Extinction Rebellion Mi’kma’ki / Nova Scotia Facebook page, June 19, 2022