June 24, 2021

National Indigenous Peoples Day: Mother Trees, Mother Earth and What We Need to Learn.

I am an avid fan of CBC Radio. I often joke that I wouldn’t know much of anything without the CBC. A few weeks ago there was an amazing segment on the research of Suzanne Simard.  Professor Ms. Simard wrote the book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. In the book, she discusses her research on how trees actually communicate with one another.

Professor Simard argues that trees are linked to neighbouring trees by an underground network of fungi that resembles the neural networks in the brain. In one study, Simard watched as a Douglas fir that had been injured by insects appeared to send chemical warning signals to a ponderosa pine growing nearby. The pine tree then produced defense enzymes to protect against the insects.

In addition to warning each other of danger, Simard says that trees have been known to share nutrients at critical times. “Mother trees” can actually help the growth of seedlings around them. The seedlings will link into the network of the old trees and benefit from trees passing a little bit of carbon, nutrients and water to the seedlings. Mother trees even prefer their own offspring over other seedlings.

This is fascinating research. But guess who already knew it?  Indigenous peoples. In fact many aspects of conservation and the natural world that we are “discovering” have been long-known to Indigenous peoples. As in so many aspects of our relationship, we just haven’t been listening. 

Historically, Indigenous peoples believe in an interconnectedness in the natural world and the concept of Mother Earth. That is, all aspects of the environment are tied together. This connection results in a moral responsibility for people to care for, respect and live in harmony with the natural world. This view also carried over to Indigenous peoples’ respect for animals and their life cycles. Colonial views have been very different and enormously damaging to the environment.

June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, served as a reminder: that we need to recognize and reconcile with Canada’s miserable record in our interaction with Indigenous peoples. It is also a reminder that as we seek to address the many environmental crises we face, we need to learn from their knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO