We all witnessed the exceptionally rare event of winds channeling smoke in a band from the northern fires to cover the skies of Montreal. Since I was part of solidarity with James Bay First Nations in 1968,1 remember the fires were predicted at that time by ecologists. It is well-established in the science of meteorology that changes in landscape such as dams and clearcutting of forests have a profound effect on weather generation and in particular precipitation. This change has had a direct effect in diminishing precipitation in the north and as a result contributing to the fires that have been burning out of control for weeks. Those who are familiar with the north will realize that across Canada northern forests are burning at an alarming rate. I worked in forestry, reforestation (planted 100,000 trees) and pulp and paper in British Columbia in the 1970s. What science is slowly coming to realize is that forests will naturally control fires such as those set by lightning if the climate ecology is healthy (i.e., not changed). This is in contradiction to the often-repeated industry mantra that; forests burn out of control naturally and therefore need to be clear-cut or harvested regularly.

Forests convert solar energy into plant matter and recycle water at a rate of 95 to 98 per cent. This absorption and hydrocycle creates the cool and moist conditions we experience during forest walks. Absorption also creates cool spots over geographic distances which attract (actually creating) the warm-moist winds that come from the seas and oceans where the sun is only partially absorbed.

When forests are cut, in particular the tall dark trees of the valley bottoms as in James Bay and northern Quebec and these valleys are flooded, partially bare or bare (as happens in dammed areas most of the year), then the solar energy is not absorbed and 95 per cent is reflected back into the atmosphere. The result is that winds blow from the continent to the sea and thus do not replenish the water cycle.

In a healthy eco-system, water itself is absorbed 60 per cent through leaf surface contact by the tree with humid air (winds) and only 40 per cent through precipitation (rain or snow). I myself have seen the phenomena of rain falling from this contact only under trees with blue skies above. Thus the forest themselves generate and receive significant water transfer by their design. This is an example of GAIA the living earth or life itself as a pro-generator.

The living forests themselves will give up to 10 times the harvest of edible seeds, building material and other matter if we apply the traditional harvesting knowledge of the “savage”

(Latin for “Person of the forest”).

Studies by the United Nations Environmental and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) since the 1960s have confirmed that North Africa was a rich jungle and pioneered this scientific understanding of living physics. This productive jungle which had been harvested sustainably for tens of thousands of years by indigenous peoples, was cut. The indigenous people were displaced or killed by Egyptian, Phoenician, Semite and Roman armies and civilized ‘field crop’ economies. The result is the Sahara and Sahel deserts among many others worldwide and the vastly lowered ecological productivity that all peoples of the world are experiencing today.

When forests are stranded as by hydro development, the result is impaired capacity for rainfall and moisture attraction and thus the forest fires of today. Considering plans for even more hydro flooding, it is time for First Nations, the Quebec government and other stakeholders to involve all factors of science in the calculation.

The Cree and other indigenous peoples of the north should be in touch with this meteorological information, supported in elaboration of traditional knowledge and as well be completely compensated by southern material and energy users. Their knowledge can be vastly more productive than southern pseudo-science. We now understand that the mechanically based industries of the “West” do not have the real productivity to cover their actual costs, but there is hope in a synthesis of traditional life-based knowledge, information and mainstream science. Geographic Information Systems (Computerized mapping) have a key role to play in uniting diverse fields of science into a calculable whole for this developing understanding. This geo-graphic approach is traditional to many indigenous societies.

Eco-Montreal Tiohtiake green mapping (www.eco-montreal.mcgill.ca) is in its ninth year of mapping ecology in the greater Montreal region. These past two years we have been working with elders in Kahnawake and Kanesatake to map Kanien’kehaka placenames and village sites with Geographic Information Systems technology. Several reports are available. We have an application in with Youth Service Canada to employ Kahnawake youth in continuing to map the knowledge of elders.

Would you like to be involved in creating diverse holistic, indigenous and cultural approaches to biosphere regeneration?

Contact Douglas Jack, Coordinator eco-montrea!@mcgill.ca (514) 364-0599 Indigenous Elemental Design