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Community-based Framework for Measuring the Success of Indigenous peoples' Forest-based Economic Development in Canada


Peggy Smith, Faculty of Forestry and the Forest Environment, Lakehead University
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Email:




In Canada, Indigenous Peoples' rights are constitutionally recognized and a responsibility of the national government. These rights are integrally tied to Indigenous Peoples' use of lands and resources and, in the case of forest resources, are concerned mainly with land uses associated with forest resource harvesting, including wildlife and non-timber forest products. Most Indigenous traditional economies in Canada were built on forest resources and involved a complex set of institutions governing the relationships among forest users. After colonization, forest management became the constitutional responsibility of provincial governments. Timber harvesting for commodity products -dimensional lumber and pulp and paper - transformed Canadian forests into industrial production yards. The institutional systems constructed by provinces to regulate timber harvesting occurring on publicly owned forest lands supported industrial production. Access to timber resources is controlled by provincial governments, which assign exclusive, long-term, large area licenses to private companies.

In the process of privatizing the natural resources on public lands, Indigenous communities have historically and systematically had their access to these lands and resources limited, even though they maintained an interest in these lands - either an outright form of ownership ("Aboriginal title") or land use recognized through government-to-government agreements, such as treaties. As a result of Indigenous peoples' systemic exclusion from industrial development, many forest-based Indigenous communities in Canada suffer severe underdevelopment with high unemployment and social problems are commonplace. The issue of Indigenous Peoples' access to these lands - over 80% of Indigenous communities in Canada are located in the commercial forest zone (Gysbers and Lee 2003) - is such that the development and maintenance of local economies has been the source of longstanding conflict between Indigenous Peoples and the state in Canada.

An example of the industrial production yards into which Canadian forests have been transformed. This site is in the interior of British Columbia. Photo: Peggy Smith

This article will explore some of the current theoretical and practical approaches to economic development, Indigenous peoples' economic development in general, and Indigenous peoples' forest-based development in Canada in particular1. Some of the methodological challenges of carrying out research of this nature are addressed. Finally, a comprehensive framework is suggested to assess the success of Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development. Cultural sustainability is added as a critical component of the sustainable forest management paradigm that already considers economic, social and environmental indicators. The link between community health and well-being and successful economic development is a critical one, but in order to understand the link, a different set of indicators than simply "jobs and income"or profit (Cornell and Kalt 1998) needs to be developed to assess the success of Indigenous forest-based economic enterprises. Another essential aspect of the assessment of Indigenous peoples' development is the recognition of their unique rights, which is needed to provide the foundation for their autonomous development. This recognition and respect for Indigenous rights will necessitate institutional change, including new rules for access to lands and resources and new forms of decision-making to ensure that Indigenous peoples are able to determine the nature, form and extent of economic development. This comprehensive framework is being tested in case studies in Ontario and Quebec and within a larger national research project that is also examining national socio-economic indicators for Indigenous communities based on census data.


Economic Development Paradigms

It is helpful when analyzing the success of Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development to place development theories into two broad categories: determinism and human agency or contingency (Anderson 1997). Theories in the deterministic category leave little room for actors, especially "underdeveloped"groups (be they third world countries, or the fourth world, as Indigenous peoples have been termed), to chart their own course. These theories state that development takes a predictable and predestined path and that certain steps must be followed to achieve "success". In the human agency category, there is room for actors to influence the nature and direction of development. Both categories of theories have been applied to Indigenous peoples' economic development. Increasingly, as Indigenous peoples rebel against state-imposed solutions designed to improve their development and make their own choices about their future, they are turning to theories that embrace the notion of human agency.

DesBrisay (1994) reviewed the literature on the impact of major resource developments on Indigenous communities in Canada for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the most comprehensive examination in Canadian history of the status of Aboriginal peoples. In his review he raised some of the essential questions that Indigenous peoples face in making choices about natural resource-based economic development:

Can Aboriginal people participate in industrial capitalism and do so in a way that respects and is in keeping with traditional values? Can values oriented more toward the collective than the individual survive in an industrial environment if participation in a project is organized at the collective level? To what extent are community values compromised if the environment and the well-being of future generations are put at risk?

One school of thought is that such questions are frivolous and the real issue is to bring economic development of any kind to "underdeveloped" regions. Economic development in and of itself will solve the social ills of Indigenous communities. Industrial capitalism with its wealth generation will provide the necessary resources to bring jobs, income and profit to counteract poverty, unemployment, lack of education and poor health, if only the underdeveloped region follows the set path. Another school contends that mere "jobs and income" does not necessarily ensure healthy community development and, in fact, the recognition of Indigenous rights or some form of sovereignty is essential for the successful economic development of Indigenous communities - this is the "nation building" approach of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (Cornell and Kalt 1998).

Deterministic Theories

Modernist and dependency theorists argue that it is futile to go against industrial capitalism. Modernist theories, popular following World War II to promote third world "development" , described development as necessarily progressing through set stages to the inevitable and desirable goal of industrial capitalism. Anderson and Giberson (2004), in their review of theoretical perspectives, describe one view: "... a developing country or region passes through a series of stages during which its people build economic capacity, shed traditional and adopt modern ways, and from which they emerge as fully modern, prosperous states." On the other side of the coin, dependency theorists, who emerged to oppose modernist theories, explained that development did not follow the modernists' inevitable stages and many regions remained in poverty. Their rationale for this was that:

... those groups late in joining the capitalist system can expect, at best, chronic poverty allayed to some degree by incomplete development. A newly developing region will remain a captive to the developed core with its economic activity controlled by, and subservient to that core - in essence, under the dependency theory it is too late for Aboriginal people to "join the club" as a full member. (Anderson and Giberson 2004)

Various theories about global capitalism explain that firms will move toward vertical production, "from resource extraction to the final product, being subdivided into subprocesses which are assigned to whichever part of the world can provide the most profitable combination of natural resources, capital and labour" (Tykkyläinen 1999). In this system, regions are held hostage to the vagaries of global capitalism.

For Indigenous communities in Canada, these deterministic theories would lead them away from traditionally based forest economies to full integration into global capitalism. However, this has not been the case. As Usher (2003) points out:

Not so long ago, the prevailing view among social scientists and policy makers was that industrial development in the North would induce Aboriginal people to leave their camps and villages for major resource development sites or planned development nodes. Emigration from the traditional economy (which would simply wither away) to the new economy would thus be the key route to modernisation and acculturation…. In fact, what emerged (or persisted) in Aboriginal communities all across the North, was a mixed, subsistence-based economy that integrates two spheres of activity, institutions and practices: market and subsistence, brought together, not simply side by side in a class-divided village, but directly within the household. Production and consumption are combined in one basic unit, the household, which functions in effect as a microenterprise.

How much choice, then, can Indigenous communities exercise in determining the nature of their development? Wutunee' s (1992, 2005) stated interest in Indigenous economic development, business and entrepreneurship has centered on "what choices will be made to meet community and individual goals". She has focused on case studies of entrepreneurship in Indigenous northern communities and noted that there has been a "shift away from primary resource industries to information and service industries" (1992: 4). Her emphasis is on small and medium enterprises. In her latest book, Living Rhythms (2005), she too raises questions similar to DesBrisay (1994) about the direction of Indigenous economic development:

Will we want communities where the environment is cherished and elders and traditions honoured, or will we try to maximize our returns on investment? Are these objectives mutually exclusive? What does it mean to us to participate meaningfully in the economy? What are the benefits, and what are the costs?

Human Agency Theories

Anderson and Giberson (2004) offer regulation theory as one that emphasizes contingency and human agency. They define regulation as "the complex and ever evolving set of "things" that shape and guide the capitalist economy and "preserve it, for some time at least, from catastrophic internal collisions and breakdowns". In regulation theory, each regime of accumulation may be regulated in any number of ways, each unique to local conditions and subject to human choices.

Institutional economists have also focused on human agency. In the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Cornell and Kalt (1995) used collective action theory, in particular the institutions of government, to explain economic development and well-being. They explain institutions as collective goods and point to the limitations of neoclassical economic analysis in explaining the non-coercive emergence, persistence and evolution of institutions of government. The results of over 10 years of studying mainly tribal economic development in the United States have led the Harvard Project to conclude that for Indigenous communities culture, sovereignty and institutions matter. The Harvard approach has inspired similar studies in Canada. In a series of reports by the National Aboriginal Forestry Association and the Institute on Governance (2000), sponsored by the federal First Nations Forestry Program, the success of Indigenous/corporate forest-based partnerships was explored, considering in addition to the bottom line of profitability the impact of Indigenous rights, culture and land tenure.

Sustainable Development

Even though the sustainable development approach, popularized by Brundtland following the World Commission on Sustainable Development in 1987, has been adopted worldwide, development continues to be assessed against narrow economic criteria. These criteria are based on the assumption that the accumulation of capital, whether financial, natural or human, is the basis for economic growth. This leads to assessments of development based on economic indicators such as profitability for individual businesses, increases in gross national product for nation states, or employment levels for communities, indicators which, for the most part, neglect social, environmental and cultural dimensions. As Sen (1999:14) argues in linking "freedom" with development:

It is as important to recognize the crucial role of wealth in determining living conditions and the quality of life, as it is to understand the qualified and contingent nature of this relationship. An adequate conception of development must go beyond the accumulation of wealth and the growth of gross national product and other income-related variables. Without ignoring the importance of economic growth, we must look well beyond it.

The sustainable development or sustainable forest management paradigm does this by treating all three pillars - social, economic and environmental - as key components. For Indigenous communities, it has been argued that sustainable development should include recognition of their rights, culture and aspirations for self-determination. Mulvihill and Jacobs (1991) argue that the conditions for self-reliance of Indigenous communities include self-determination, decolonization, appropriate institutions and sustainable development. They emphasize that, to achieve sustainable development, it is essential to have Indigenous knowledge to deal with the complexity and periodicity of northern ecosystems, interdependence based on mutual learning and intergenerational equity.

Loomis (2000) too points to Indigenous efforts to explore alternative development paths in keeping with the concepts of sustainable development: "Fourth World peoples in advanced industrial societies are asserting their right of self-determined development. They are questioning the wisdom of Western paths, and looking for guidance to the recovery of traditional perspectives."

Critically important to Indigenous communities, and frequently subsumed under the social pillar of the sustainable development paradigm, consideration of culture is integral to defining Indigenous peoples and protecting their way of life. Modernist theorists argue that traditional cultures must be left behind to embrace modern industrial capitalism, but as early as 1954, Merrill was pointing to the Maori as an example of a non-Western people that was "able to carry out fairly extensive economic changes in a culture that had few of the institutions usually considered necessary for executing such tasks and which, moreover, had many institutions one would think would strongly inhibit economic growth". The institutions he refers to are: "kinship control of productive resources including land, the organization of production and distribution on the basis of kinship groups, and orientation of economic activity toward group generosity and not toward individual accumulation of wealth" (Merril 1954).

Human agency or contingency theories lend themselves to a fuller exploration of the potential of Indigenous societies to control development within their own cultural perspectives, integrating social, economic and environmental concerns. Research to assess the success of Indigenous economic development, especially forest-based development that is so dependent on the maintenance of forest productivity and health, should explore these agency theories. The sustainable development paradigm is especially appropriate. However, this is not an easy task. Several methodological challenges arise in conducting such research.


Methodological Challenges

There are several methodological challenges in conducting research to assess the success of Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development. These include the quality and availability of data for Indigenous communities, choosing the unit of analysis, working in a multidisciplinary team, applying participatory approaches with Indigenous communities and understanding the interactions among social, environmental and economic indicators.

State of Data on Aboriginal Issues

The first question that must be addressed in assessing the success of Indigenous peoples' economic development is who determines "success"? Forest-based economic development involves a number of different actors: Indigenous people, from the business owner who may be a local entrepreneur or the community government itself to internal governance bodies like economic development officers or development corporations; forest industry partners and their representative organizations; government departments, both national and regional, that provide incentives and through programming often determine the nature, direction and amount of funding available; and other "stakeholders" who have a range of competing interests in the development of public forests, from conservation to recreation to industrial development. The involvement of competing interests then leads to another important question: what are the indicators of success?

In determining the indicators of success and who should determine them, Indigenous people have historically been left out of consideration largely because economic development policies have been centrally controlled through political and bureaucratic initiatives (Anderson 1997). Today, with the growing Indigenous movement for self-determination, it is becoming more evident that, first and foremost, it is Indigenous people themselves who must determine "success".


Youth at Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario have participated in an almost two-year blockade of logging roads in their traditional territory, protesting the practices of a multinational company granted a license by the province of Ontario to harvest timber and manage the forest. Source: Thunder Bay Independent Media


Serious effort should be undertaken to engage First Nations 2 in defining success. What is it that First Nations are looking for in terms of economic development? Is it jobs, and if so, what type? Is it wealth generation, and if so, how is this wealth to be distributed? Is success to be defined by the quality of socio-economic infrastructure in First Nations? There is a long series of questions to be asked but there has to be a concrete and common understanding as to what constitutes success and what measures will be tracked to determine whether the desired results are being achieved (Shanks 2005).

Given that these questions are only beginning to be addressed, the measures to be tracked are still undefined. As a first step, the discussion about success must take place with Indigenous people and this will necessitate a qualitative approach.

As for the quantitative data available, statistics on Indigenous peoples' development in Canada are notoriously unreliable. Data that looks at Aboriginal land use and participation in the forest sector is poor. Baseline data are often non-existent. 3 Until such data are available, it is impossible to get a full understanding of the impact of industrial forest operations on Aboriginal communities or to get a measure of the true value of Aboriginal subsistence or commercial activities, particularly for non-timber uses or to protect those values that forest managers now recognize are uniquely important to Aboriginal Peoples, including cultural and spiritual sites. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers has reflected on the inadequacy of the data available since it set in place its original Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management (CCFM 1995) and began to try and measure compliance with the commitments they contained (CCFM 1997; 2000).

With the release of the CCFM' s National Status 2000 report a few years later -"a first attempt to report on sustainable forest management" - not much had changed. This report also discussed the inadequacy or lack of available data. The report for the indicators on Aboriginal participation, in particular the extent of Aboriginal participation in forest-based economic opportunities, stated: "comprehensive national data are not available" and "the only data collection that does take place is on an ad hoc basis." For the indicator on the "number of Aboriginal communities with a significant forestry component in their economic base and diversity of forest use," employment data collected by Aboriginal Business Canada (an arm of the federal Industry Canada) and Statistics Canada led to the conclusion that only seven of 750 Aboriginal Census Subdivisions were found to be forest-dependent. Given that approximately 80% of Aboriginal communities are within the commercial forest region of Canada, common sense belies this conclusion. Obviously something is awry with the "economic base method" used to come up with this measure. The report did acknowledge that other studies show that "dependence on the forest is greater than typically captured by forest industry dependence measures" (Korber 1997, cited in CCFM 2000: 97).

In a review of the CCFM in 2003, a reduction of the original 83 indicators to 53 was recommended after an assessment of: 1) relevance to the criterion; 2) measurability based on scientifically valid, empirical measurements that can be consistently repeated over time, with data that are both practical and physically feasible to collect; 3) understandability, not only to forest managers, but also to an informed public; 4) ability to be forecast into the future with reasonable accuracy; and, 5) whether or not reference values could be determined for the indicator.

Given the challenges described above from the CCFM technical progress reports of 1997 and 2000, and using the review assessment criteria, the revised C&I (CCFM 2003) addressed Indigenous people' s participation in forest-based economic development under Forest Community Well-being and Resilience. The preamble to this element notes that "unsustainable resource practices have the potential to result in high social costs concentrated among residents of rural communities" and that many of these are "Aboriginal communities that are surrounded by forests and are dependent on the forest for their economic and social well-being." To assess this, the CCFM, except for the indicator on "education attainment levels in forest-based communities", takes a "jobs and income" approach, with indicators on: "economic diversity index", "employment rate" and "incidence of low income."

One way of addressing the challenges inherent in the quality and availability of data and the historical exclusion of Indigenous peoples in defining the nature of success is to combine qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative methods in which Indigenous people are engaged in discussions about their definitions of success and these results are then compared with other stakeholders, including business partners, will bring some balance to assessments and give an Indigenous perspective on the definition of success. To improve the quality and availability of data, there will have to be a commitment from both governments committed to tracking sustainable forest management and from Indigenous peoples themselves to participate in the collection of census data on which to base statistical information about the nature of economic development.

Choosing the Unit of Analysis

Another methodological challenge in assessing Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development is choosing the unit of analysis. There are a number of possible choices: the individual (entrepreneur, the firm or worker), the joint venture or partnership, the household, the community or the nation.

In addition to the economic base method with its measures of forest dependence through jobs and income, classical assessments of the success of economic development have also focused on the business, either on the firm or the entrepreneur. If businesses are small in size or are in business for only a short term - a common problem in the boom-and-bust cycles of the forest sector - then tracking these businesses becomes very difficult. In the case of individual waged workers or contractors, because Aboriginal peoples have only partially participated in Canada' s national census taking and because self-identification of race is voluntary, it is very difficult to get an accurate picture of the number of Aboriginal people employed in the forest sector. Another issue with tracking individual success is that for many Indigenous communities their criteria for success might not focus on the individual, but more on community well-being. Studies that focus exclusively on the individual deny the collective nature of most Indigenous communities and focus on individual profit rather than community well-being.

In Indigenous communities, because of a lack of capacity - with regards human, capital and natural resources - many forest-based enterprises are developed in partnership with existing forest companies. Joint ventures are seen as a means to address the strengths and weaknesses of both parties. The venture itself is assessed in these cases, with a focus on the business-to-business relationship in which community aspirations are not necessarily considered. The tendency in Canada has been to focus on joint ventures because they are often highly publicized and because of the participation of large, multinational forestry firms, information about their operations is easier to attain.

Another choice for the unit of analysis is the household. Household analyses tend to focus on the mixed economy and kinship-based systems, exploring not just a particular business venture but the range of a household' s involvement in forest-based activities. However, such studies, as comprehensive as they are, are time-consuming and expensive. These studies also relate to a specific community and results may not be able to be generalized to other communities.

If researching households is an expensive and time-consuming method, choosing the community as the unit of analysis is also. For a comprehensive approach, researchers need to interview and/or observe a cross-section of community members from the grassroots to leadership to the individual entrepreneur. No community is monolithic and there will be varying interpretations of success of forest-based economic development. To gain a sense of the range of that variation, a case study approach with interviews of several key actors within the community would be necessary.

Finally, many studies of economic development have focused on the nation state, particularly underdeveloped nations. For Indigenous peoples, in their move toward self-determination, there has been a focus on "the nation" (RCAP 1996). However, in the absence of negotiated understandings with existing nation states, and given the semi-dependent relationship of most Indigenous communities within nation states, studies with the Indigenous nation as the unit of analysis are rare.

Working in a Multidisciplinary Team

The challenges of the quality and availability of data and choosing the unit of analysis are only confounded by the challenge of working in a multidisciplinary team of social foresters, economists and political scientists with an advisory committee with representatives from academia, the forest private sector and Indigenous organizations. All academic disciplines come in their restrictive boxes with their distinct disciplinary approaches, theories and terminology. With a national study, different provincial policy regimes, private company practices and Indigenous community approaches make choices particularly complex, given the need to account for the diversity in approaches while seeking common threads. Making choices, reconciling values and getting the work done with a multidisciplinary team conjures up a too-many-cooks scenario that can lead to problems with "deliverables" and deadlines. With the commitment to ensuring that research results are applied, advisory committees have become a tool to guide this work, but on the other hand, can add further complexity.

Using a Participatory Approach

Research of this nature is undertaken for many reasons, but foremost is to understand and redress the historic injustices toward Indigenous peoples. To improve the status of Indigenous communities and their well-being related to forest-based economic development, there must be capacity and willingness on the part of both Indigenous communities and forest companies to participate.

While most potential participants agree that the research goals are laudable, there are many factors that hinder participation. Given the historic exclusion of Indigenous peoples from the forest sector, there is mutual suspicion on the part of both Indigenous communities and forest companies. For some participants who have broken through this suspicion and developed a working relationship, there is often the fear of jeopardizing these tentative relationships. And for others, they are just too busy and too understaffed to participate! For researchers, academics are often removed from a practical understanding of the history, complexity, different points of view and people in Indigenous communities.

A Response to the Methodological Challenges

To address these methodological challenges, the research team chose a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. A workshop early in the project with the research team and advisory committee helped to clarify the challenges and approaches. 4 Existing statistics will be analysed. Previous studies conducted in Canada will provide a solid base upon which to refine the results (NAFA/IOG; Hickey and Nelson 2005; SFMN Synthesis Report). To understand the success of forest-based businesses a survey focused on partnerships is being conducted with a focus on the joint venture in which both forest companies and Indigenous community representatives will be interviewed. A number of case studies will be conducted moving the focus from the business to the community and its context to gain a fuller picture of the criteria for success. It is with the case studies that a more integrated approach can be used.


Framework for Measuring the Success of Indigenous peoples' Forest-based Economic Development


This community well-being framework takes into account the sustainable forest management (SFM) paradigm that attempts to integrate economic, social and environmental considerations. Given the particular historic and political conditions of Indigenous communities, it is necessary to expand the SFM paradigm to include culture and to recognize the essential element of Indigenous rights. Figure 1 tries to capture the interplay of the four elements - economic, cultural, social and economic - across different scales - from local, regional, national to global. The four directions is a modification of the medicine wheel used by some Indigenous peoples to capture their holistic worldview showing the connection among elements. It relates to aspects of Indigenous peoples' rights and responsibilities - self-determination, capacity building, jurisdiction, autonomy and stewardship of lands and resources and community well-being.

Can such a framework provide a more comprehensive examination of the success of Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development? What criteria for success would need to be assessed under such a framework? How is it possible to move from a single indicator approach - measuring jobs and income or environmental sustainability - to understanding the interaction of all elements and the potential trade-offs among them? Under whose direction are such decisions to be made? Table 1 outlines some of the criteria for measuring the "success" of First Nations' sustainable forest-based economic development. Community well-being and satisfaction are shown as the outcome of an approach that combines environmental, social, cultural and economic criteria, founded on the recognition of Indigenous rights with the parallel appropriate institutional development to reflect the framework.


Figure 1: Indigenous Peoples, Rights and Sustainable Development.


Community well-being and satisfaction as an outcome encapsulates meeting the basic human needs of food, clothing and shelter, but goes beyond this to reflect the aspirations of Indigenous communities for self-determination and self-governance. The core of the framework is the three pillars of sustainable forest management - economic, environmental and social criteria - with the addition of a cultural component.

The foundation of the framework is the recognition, respect and accommodation of Indigenous rights. In Canada, Indigenous peoples still assert their inherent rights and sovereignty within the Canadian nation state. This assertion of sovereignty is the basis for self-determination. There have been a number of different formal agreements between the Canadian state and Indigenous peoples in which the state interprets that Indigenous rights have been limited or extinguished. However, Indigenous people assert that their rights cannot be extinguished and therefore continue in spite of agreements. These agreements include historic treaties and modern land claims. In some areas of Canada, such agreements are still being negotiated and in those cases, Indigenous title or ownership continues.

The recognition of Indigenous rights necessitates the joint development between Indigenous peoples and the state of new institutions for the management and use of forest resources. Such institutional arrangements might include shared decision-making, ranging from advisory to consent and control, including joint decision-making or "co-management". Mechanisms for conflict resolution, assessment and monitoring would be important for adaptation over time.


Table 1: Criteria by which to assess success of First Nations' sustainable forest-based economic development


Basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), self-sufficiency, self-governance, adequate standard of living, high employment, fair distribution of economic benefits across households, cultural integrity, human health,
education, political stability, access to lands & resources, sustainable forest management






Condition of forest
Sustainable extraction of renewable resource (amount and rate of extraction)
Maintenance of habitat for all users, including wildlife

Jobs, income & profit
Mixed economy with both traditional land uses and cash economy

Capacity-building (education and skills, ability to hire resource managers long-term)
Increased community stability
Improved individual & community health

Maintenance of way of life
Language retention
Cultural learning




Recognition, respect, protection and accommodation of Aboriginal & treaty rights = sovereignty or self-government
Rights are inherent, cannot be extinguished and so apply to all areas: historic treaties, modern land claims, title or ownership

Shared decision-making (ranging from advisory to consent & control, including joint decision-making or "co-management)
Conflict resolution
Assessment and monitoring

For the environmental criteria, the condition of the forest (Ostrom 1999) as a result of resource exploitation, either through industrial extraction or traditional use, can be measured by the amount and rate of extraction and, important for Indigenous communities with traditional subsistence as part of their economies, maintenance of habitat, especially for wildlife.

For the economic criteria, classical measures of jobs, income and profit are important. However, given the recognition of Indigenous rights and shared control with the state, revenue-sharing of resource rents would also be a measure of success. In order to maintain traditional forest use and the cultural aspect that is so connected to that use, the maintenance of a mixed economy with both traditional forest land uses and a cash economy based on industrial extraction should be considered.

In the social arena, one of the impacts of the exclusion of Indigenous communities from the industrial forest-based sector has been the lack of skills to participate. An increase in forest business and management skills, gained both practically and through formal education, and the ability of Indigenous communities to hire resource and business managers is a good criterion to measure change over time. It has been posited that the well-being of the community and individuals within it are integrally tied to the health of the land. Although difficult to prove a causal relationship, there have been some studies in Canada that explored the link between environmental and human health. In a study by Usher (2003:370), violence was explored as an indicator of the impact of environmental pollution. The study found in the First Nation communities of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog, which had lost access to traditional fishing because of mercury pollution from a nearby pulp mill, that:

a sharp spike occurred in violent deaths at both Grassy Narrows and Whitedog, precisely as the crisis of harvest disruption deepened, and which did not occur on a nearby reserve that we used as a control. Think of what 17 violent deaths in a single year means to a community of a few hundred people.

Criteria such as community stability and improved health need to be further explored as indicators of successful development.

Finally, with the addition of a cultural component in the interests of encouraging development that maintains the cultural diversity of Indigenous communities, criteria appropriate to the way of life of the community are important. Language retention is a prime indicator of cultural integrity and in Canada Indigenous languages are both threatened in some regions and vibrant in others, with many communities attempting to restore almost extinct languages. In forest-based economic development, historically, Indigenous knowledge has been integral to the success of the larger economy, especially during the early period of colonization and the fur trade. Today, with scarce and diminishing forest resources, Indigenous knowledge may once again play an important role in new types of forest-based development. The criterion of the role of Indigenous knowledge in developing and conserving forests is another key aspect of cultural diversity.



Understanding Indigenous economies, both their "success" and "underdevelopment", requires an exploration of development theories that embrace human agency. These theories allow an exploration of development that is based on Indigenous communities' aspirations for self-determination and economic development that is appropriate to their worldview, including their traditional economies, culture and recognition of their unique rights. With this acceptance, economic development "success" will be considered from both accepted economic criteria and those that are defined by Indigenous communities themselves.

The methodological challenges that must be addressed to include Indigenous communities' perspectives lead to more participatory approaches with Indigenous communities helping to define the conduct of research. Multidisciplinary teams of social scientists and ecologists provide new opportunities for synthesis and creative methodologies, but also challenge researchers with a narrow disciplinary focus to explore and accept new theories and approaches. Given the inadequacies of data, researchers must work to fill in the knowledge gaps. They must also advocate for effective ways of collecting and maintaining databases that will provide a reliable source for measuring indicators that will paint an accurate picture of the changes over time in Indigenous peoples' economic conditions.

A more comprehensive framework to assess the success of Indigenous peoples' forest-based economic development is a modification of the sustainable forest management paradigm. Adding culture to the economic, social and environmental pillars gives due weight to the importance of protecting Indigenous peoples' cultural diversity. Having as the framework' s foundation the recognition of Indigenous peoples' rights ensures that Indigenous peoples themselves will be the agents of development. This will necessitate the joint formulation between Indigenous peoples and the state of new institutions for the use and management of forest resources.



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1 This article arises out of an ongoing research project, "First Nations and Sustainable Forestry: Institutional Conditions for Success", begun in 2003 and funded by the Sustainable Forest Management Network. The author is a co-investigator in a research team headed by principal investigator Dr. Ronald Trosper, Dept. of Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia. The project website is The author also wishes to acknowledge the work of Sarah Allen, a Masters student working on the project, for her interest in and exploration of community well-being indicators. Allen participated in the development of the community-based framework.

2 Aboriginal peoples in Canada are defined in the Constitution Act, 1982 to include Indians, Inuit and Metis. "Indians"refers to a broad group of Aboriginal people, some of whom are recognized as "status"Indians by the federal government. These status Indians are an administrative and trust responsibility of the federal government under the Indian Act. Groups of status Indians were granted small land bases called reserves and governed as "bands". The term "band"was seen to be paternalistic with the rise of the self-determination movement and terminology changed from "band"to "First Nation."For more background on the nuances of terminology used for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, see Words First: An Evolving Terminology Relating to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada 2004). Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Communications Branch. 2004. Words First: An Evolving Terminology Relating to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. August 24, 2005.

3 This section is taken from a longer paper published by the author (Smith 2004)

4 Papers from the workshop are available on the project website at



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