Project 32: To Investigate Cree Concepts of Land and Environment, and the Relevance of Social Economy Concepts

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 Project 32 

To Investigate Cree Concepts of Land and Environment, and the Relevance of Social Economy Concepts

Academic Partners

Jean Paul Restoule , Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. (Project Lead)

Sheila Gruner, OISE/UT

Community Partners
Chris Metatawabin, Fort Albany First Nation


The survival and health of Aboriginal communities and their economies are underpinned by direct relationships to land, a strong sense of community, and the drive to be self-determining people in all areas of life (including governance, education, health and so forth). The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report (RCAP) and a plethora of other reports and research lead by Aboriginal people underscore the fact that the viability of First Nation communities in Canada is dependent on a continued cultural and spiritual practice linked to land rights and political autonomy. As such, economic practice is necessarily subverted to broader conceptualizations of life, within a specific Aboriginal worldview.

The ‘social economy’ is a term with little-known implications or relevance for Aboriginal communities in Ontario. What are the benefits to Aboriginal communities in seeking to understand concepts and definitions of social economy applied to their context? Can the ‘social economy’ framework contemplate: issues of historical injustice that require redress, calls for respecting collective land title, key current environmental issues, or ways of seeing and being in the world that lay outside of a western perspective? Can it contemplate activisms of local people who struggle for self-determination? Does it offer support or pose problems to the ongoing challenges facing First Nation communities?

This research project will aim at critically assessing ‘social economy’ discourse and its relevance to Aboriginal communities while simultaneously supporting an Aboriginal  community (Fort Albany Ontario) to identify areas of local economic practice that are culturally meaningful and support struggles for land and self-determination. Large-scale mining development is currently proposed and/or underway in the region, with effects on the traditional hunting grounds and lands of the Cree in James Bay communities including Fort Albany and Kashechewan. How do the James Bay Cree perceive the land/environment and traditional cultural/economic practices being affected by the project? What strategies are in place to maintain and develop the Omushkegowuk way of life in face of the changes coming to their communities? How can the Cree track environmental and social changes on their own terms and for their own purposes? What role does alliance building with non-Aboriginal people play in the fostering of self-determination and local economic sustainability?

The specific objectives of this research study are:

  • To critically assess the relevance of social economy concepts and framework to Aboriginal (Cree) people of Fort Albany First Nation
  • To support local Cree participants (with an emphasis on youth) to document and value local economic practice and key issues related to social, economic and environmental change
  • To share and exchange research findings with other Aboriginal communities and researchers involved in related investigations.

The initial research phase is purposefully general given its aim to involve local participants in defining research directions. An advisory group will be formed with involvement of the band council and local community so that ethical issues and choices can be informed and tracked by the Cree themselves and the project can develop with continued community involvement.

In order to make the research study one of interest and relevance to the community, a skills-building element will be included that focuses on training local Cree youth to interview elders and others about traditional practices and key issues related to the study. A short audio or visual documentary will be one end result of the research study.

Plans for communicating research results within the academic community

  • Scholarly journal article jointly produced (OISE/UT and Algoma UC)


Plans for communicating research results outside the academic community

  • Audio documentary
  • Written report on training, research process and findings