My Autoethnography of Tree Planting in Northern Ontario

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Bell, Khalela
Tree planting , Rugged Individualism
The following research is an autoethnography based on the author’s three seasons of tree planting in northern Ontario. Tree planting in northern Ontario is a popular summer occupation for University students from southern Ontario. The contemporary demographic of tree planters is now dominantly university students which is unusual because tree planters were originally comprised of prisoners and marginalized individuals. After reviewing the history and development of the labour force, the research offers analysis of popularized perceptions of the occupation and of lived experience of the occupation. Popularized perceptions of tree planting are largely influenced by notions of Rugged Individualism. Rugged individualism emphasizes individual strength and resilience and is largely influenced by notions of Canadian nationalism and neoliberalism. These ideologies largely figure into not only perceptions of tree planting but also within the work environment itself. Tree planting offers an opportunity for students to take on a physical and mental challenge, make substantial summer earnings for the school year, and identify with a ‘tree planter’ image. Through autoethnography, these opportunities are discussed in relation to perceptions of the occupation. The research illuminates the positive aspects of tree planting such as sense of community as well as the negative impacts of neoliberalism within the work culture.
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