There are many motivations behind what we do at Plenty Canada. Some of these are driven by the urgent need to preserve biodiversity. Our plant and animal relatives have as much right to live and thrive as we do. The current rates of biodiversity loss exceed the historical past by several orders of magnitude. This must not continue. We are also driven by matters of equity and justice, particularly those involving Indigenous peoples. Health, education, language retention, these are all subjects that are critically important to us as evidenced by the projects we undertake. And we try our level best to embrace and advance our motivations within a social and institutional culture that nurtures and supports the growth and development of youth, of our precious resource, our current and future generations.
I’ll soon be seventy-four years old. At this age I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things. None of us are as perfect as we’d like to be, and I’m certainly no exception. But one of the attributes I and others have tried hard to imbed within our organization is the concept of respect, based upon longstanding ethical standards and intergenerational principles of affirmation, cooperation, and partnership. During our regular organizational meetings, when I look at our staff, contractors, advisors, and volunteers, I mostly see people who are young enough to be my children or grandchildren. I make this observation not to diminish their standing or stature in any way, but to the contrary, to marvel at their capacity, their intelligence and energy, their embrace of decency, their support of each other, and their clear thinking about the challenges that lie ahead.
As a modest not-for-profit charitable organization in its 46th year, Plenty Canada has experienced both highs and lows and witnessed hundreds of remarkable people, from all over the world, come through its doors. I’m struck by the commonalities shared among members of the human race. Within the “zone of consciousness” that our organization operates, I’ve come to realize how much community-based peoples seek the same things in their lives, not just for themselves, but for the environment that supports them and for making decisions that achieve sustainable development goals for their children and future generations.
So, it often seems discordant that while our circle possesses a firm intellectual and evidence-based comprehension of causes and solutions to certain problems, and a value system that contains empathy, many others in the world do not. Power seeking, self-aggrandizement, greed, these are not the values we embrace or in any way honour. For us moving forward and for the world to move beyond its current spate of existential threats, we need to evolve a global culture that places an emphasis on taking care of each other and the environment.
We are but one humble organization that partners with other like-minded organizations to conduct works we believe correspond to these values. In this regard, I encourage you to read the articles in this newsletter and to peruse our archives found on Plenty Canada website’s News and Blog page. And I thank you for your interest and support of our work.
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.
Throughout these past few years, Plenty Canada has aimed to place an increasing emphasis on the promotion of Indigenous culture through education, including language revitalization. Despite colonialism, Indigenous culture of an incredibly large variety has sustained itself for centuries within Canada, and Plenty Canada would like to play a part in reminding the public of its value.
To that end, Plenty Canada is hosting a series of Anishinaabemowin (Algonquin) language courses led by a long-time partner of ours, Barry Sarazin, and his wife Jessie-Ann Sarazin. These courses are being held on Zoom from January 6th to April 5th, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Each lesson begins with singing and drum songs conducted by Barry and Jessie-Ann, followed by a prayer (usually given by Jessie). After this, the technical part of the lesson begins. Barry presents a video reminding participants of the different vowel sounds used in the language, followed by a lesson plan which includes Algonquin words along with their meaning and pronunciation, as well as common sayings relating to whatever that day's topic happens to be. True to Barry and Jessie-Ann's overall focus, there is also a ton of storytelling included in each session, from personal experiences Barry and Jessie-Ann have had to traditional Indigenous Algonquin stories.
Despite the difficulty of holding such a technical interactive course online, the program has been a tremendous success, welcoming people of all ages and backgrounds. The success is, of course, entirely due to the cultural expertise of Barry and Jessie-Ann, knowledge and skills they have honed through years of work and training.
Barry is an Algonquin elder and fluent Algonquin speaker from the Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, who has been involved in fostering cultural development for decades. All the way back in 1981, he was involved in community and economic development with the Anishinaabek First Nation. He followed this up by spending a good deal of the 90s learning songs, oral histories, and sacred teachings from traditional teachers, as well as involving himself with various other community initiatives, such as youth teaching workshops.
What's more, Jessie-Ann is also an accredited Algonquin language teacher, with a certificate from Lakehead University. She, like Barry, is quite adept at a number of different traditional art forms, such as bead and moccasin making, hide tanning, and regalia making. While Barry and Jessie-Ann dedicate a large amount of time to language training, they are also broadly interested in communicating Indigenous arts to the next generation, keeping these proud and incredibly varied traditions alive.
Fortunately for them, the program has been quite well attended so far, with over 150 people registering to participate. This is a very encouraging number, especially considering that Plenty Canada hopes to hold similar online and in-person seminars in the future. Given the success of both this program and the mini birchbark canoe making workshop last year, it seems that cultural education programs will remain a very important pillar of the organization's overall mission.
— Breton Campbell
We are happy to announce that we have received support to continue working on the Ginawaydaganuc project. Ginawaydaganuc is a word from the Algonquin language that loosely translates as “the interconnection of all things.” It is an Algonquin principle outlining our responsibilities to each other and the earth. Our Ginawaydaganuc project is collecting stories about good work being done in Indigenous communities to support Indigenous food sovereignty, especially in the face of challenges made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are getting ready to begin a second round of interviews to learn from more Indigenous people about what food sovereignty means in their communities. If you or someone you know is passionate about food in your community, we would love to include your or their perspective in this project. Please reach out to Sarah Craig at email@example.com, or Rosie Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Food sovereignty is the right of a people to have access to healthy culturally appropriate foods, to grow and harvest foods produced through sustainable and ecologically sound methods, and for communities to define their own food systems. In our interviews so far, we have heard about the cultural importance of community food and medicine sharing for many communities, especially during COVID-19. We have also heard about the importance of mentorship, youth involvement, and Indigenous languages in the revitalization of Indigenous food practices. We have learned from those we have spoken to so far that food sovereignty doesn’t always begin with food. True to the name of our project we have heard about the connections between food and many other aspects of communities, including water, land, medicine, mental wellness, housing, and community infrastructure.
There are of course many challenges in this work and we want to hear about those too. Part of this project is working to make sure Indigenous people are heard when it comes to policies that affect their lives. We plan to create articles highlighting diverse perspectives from across Turtle Island (North America). We also plan to create a knowledge sharing platform where Indigenous peoples can learn, connect, and share resources to build food sovereignty programs that are informed by traditional cultural practices as well as modern farming methods. Ginawaydaganuc hopes to help foster connections and relationships toward building community-driven food systems change.
— Rosie Kerr
Plenty Canada’s Maya-Guatemala project involves the preservation of cultural values and traditional knowledge. Elder women, traditional weavers, are teaming up with young women to revalue and safeguard the ancestral knowledge of the Maya Q’eqchi’ people, “uniting in defense of our beliefs and values that roots us in our Mother Earth, the Mountains and the Cosmos,” as stated by Maria Leonor Teni de Leon (Maya-Q’eqchi’), project coordinator.
In difficult times of pandemic and economic instability, the Maya-Guatemala project has provided much needed information and distributed masks as well as facilitated vaccinations to elder weavers and their families. “Our strength as women and our commitment to our Maya culture are the basis of how we work,” said Teni.
Fifteen Q’eqchi’ women weavers formed the first circle of the project. As elders of extented families, and community leaders, they came together in 2020. The primary intent of the project is the preservation of the ancient weaving arts, but with the COVID-19 pandemic in strong upswing in the first two years, the group began by responding to that challenge. Many families were suffering serious hunger; the weavers reasoned that they would focus on the most pressing needs of the community. They reasoned that their project is “guided by love” and they worked to secure much-needed assistance in foodstuffs and medicines that were channeled to over 200 families in three communities.
“Our foundation is the value and knowledge of the Maya Q’eqchi’ feminine force,” said Teni de Leon. “We take stock of our elders and can see that many are very marginalized, the older women, many widowed, are our treasures and they are often living in severe poverty with very poor housing.”
The impacts of climate change are palpable. In November 2020, two back-to-back hurricanes were unusually penetrating. They caused widespread flooding that damaged the foundations of many houses. Among the elder’s families, many houses are in dire need of repair. “As we see the many ways we need to support our elders, we are determined to help,” expressed Teni de Leon. A team with house construction skills was organized but there is a need for further resourse development in this task of home repairs.
As the elder weavers retie the family networks within that central tradition, an Indigenous way of resilience restrengthens that is guided by reciprocity. Catalina Xo, a community Elder leader expresed that the weaving tradition in itself is a way of life, inclusive of all nature and the spirit and the vision to protect, care for, and develop their community and their lands.
Teni de Leon reports that the weaving sessions are now in full swing. The younger women take care of their elders and assist them in their daily work in the corn and bean fields, in the gathering and preparation of medicinal plants. Among the elder weavers are midwives and healers of various types, with many traditional culinary skills. Instruction sessions are in full swing and the group has visited with other Indigenous weaving circles in the region. Within this ancestral knowledge are carried the cosmovision and cultural teachings that guide a community. These teachings are essential in the raising of young children.
“The more ancient weaving patterns carry stories and symbols important to our people,” said Teni de Leon. “The elders are particularly enthusiastic that the teaching is in the natural style of the Q’eqchi’ people and culture, where everything is related.”
SEE HURRICANE STORY:
— Jose Barreiro
Plenty Canada’s Caribbean project, Cuba Indigeneity: Values and Knowledge, is based in the remote mountain and coastal region of eastern Cuba, the Oriente. It partners with a significant population of Taino-guajiro (rural) Indigenous kinship families under the leadership of a traditional cacique (chief), women elders, and a new generation of leaders.
A recent visit to the community of La Rancheria found the folks active and in good spirits, despite coping with a difficult economic and public health moment on the island. Cacique Panchito and Grandmother Reina received us warmly, and we had a chance to hear from a good variety of voices on the situation and conditions of life in Cuba this season.
It takes a rugged jeep and transfer to a soviet-era tank-like truck to traverse the steep and deeply rutted mountain roads to reach the valley enclave that is La Rancheria. This is the village (yucayeque) of the cacique, recognized as an “autochthonous community,” and considered a model agricultural community.
In the past year, Plenty Canada’s project with the Gran Familia has focused on community-building activities. The harsh United States policies of economic blockade, plus the pandemic of the past two years have made life exceedingly difficult, causing many shortages in food, medicines, transportation, and other items. The communities’ leadership circles have now coalesced as a working group among six communities (Cajobabo, Veguitas, Yateras, La Rancheria, Fray Benito, Tames). Forming into a mutual-help collective, the working group has led and assisted projects among several core Taino communities.
This was precisely the early instruction and aspiration of the Native community elders in Cuba. Urged by Cacique Panchito, they spoke of the need to tie back together the dispersed large families of the Taino kinship group, the Rojas and Ramirez families. Over forty years, from the 1980s, this main clan of Native people in Cuba, has been gathering its elders into discussions about “weaving” the communities. They prioritized the passing of, “Values and Knowledge,” (Valores y Saberes) among the generations. Large annual gatherings and many local workshops over the years achieved a remarkable revitalization of consciousness of indigeneity. It also spawned a growing circle of mature family and community leaders who have enthusiastically organized volunteer working groups, “brigades,” that have focused on generating sustainable development projects.
At La Rancheria, a water project is underway that taps into more voluminous sources, and the group is building tanks and piping to the twelve houses in the community. Some weeks ago, they assisted the community in fully rebuilding their “caney,” or circular, thatched-roof structure where meetings and ceremonies are held. Beans and coffee are occasionally dried on the concrete floor of the caney.
In the cities, availability of basic foods is scarce and always worrisome. No one starves but people struggle seriously to find affordable food for their tables. But in these mountain communities, the instruction to plant large crops and to raise more food animals was taken up and food self-sufficiency is much stronger.
In the planting and harvesting, recently the bean crops, the working groups travel by foot or horseback, to spend several days assisting each other in useful work. This tradition of multi-family work parties, originally known as “guateque,” (which refers to the accompanying feast and party) was diminishing but is now growing again. Larger, more productive fields are now possible within an indigeneity tradition of reciprocity.
At the Fray Benito community, the current project is in rebuilding a casaba-producing complex that has been in the family for generations. This ancient Taino food, product of the yuca or manioc, is presently more in demand. Groups of women in Cajobabo and Tames are starting home-based enterprises, in fashioning textiles and clothing, and in setting up home-based small animal husbandry for home consumption and commerce.
As the COVID-19 pandemic comes under control and public transportation becomes more available, the tourism industry is again growing. Plans are underway in the Gran Familia for a large gathering to dialogue with educators. National stories are breaking in Cuban media about the surprisingly high rates of Indigenous DNA in the Cuban population. The highest rates of Cuban Indigenous DNA are reported among Cacique Panchito’s folks.
— Jose Barreiro
The Kitchen Upgrade project began in December 2021 at the Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Daycare Center, during the great rains of this season. With much joy and enthusiasm, our team met at Cashbuild, the local materials supplier in the Acornoek community. We selected and ordered the main building materials and equipment needed for our work, which were delivered the same day. The firm's manager thanked Plenty Canada for the ongoing support the organization has provided to the Tsundzukani Daycare for several years.
The original Center's kitchen facilities were very rudimentary as one can see from the images accompanying this report. Therefore, our project was based on an upgrade of the entire building structure into a more adequate standard to provide a healthy and safe environment for large scale meal preparation.
The first construction step of the kitchen upgrade was to increase the size of the building structure. The next step was to install the roof trusses and continue with the exterior wall plastering, but the next big rain falls interrupted our work for a week or so. We were all happy for the rain anyway so it was a blessing in disguise.
Our work continued in the next couple of days with the sun shining and the builders being able to complete the plastering of the exterior walls and install the new galvanized roof sheets just in time before the next downpour took place.
Now that the roof was up the builders were able to plaster the interior walls and begin to install the wooden structure to support the ceiling which was successfully completed. The cornices were also placed and the first coat of paint was applied. The large window was additionally installed so to bring more light and fresh air into the kitchen environment, with a view to the Center's vegetable garden.
As per our project plan, it is proposed to install an extra rain catchment and storage system in order to provide a separate running water supply to the kitchen facilities. This improvement will make the meal preparations and clean up easier and more sanitary, as currently there is no direct running water line into the building.
Our building work is almost complete and if the weather permits it will take a couple of weeks to finish it up. The construction of two concrete tables around the interior walls will be added to the kitchen sink table.
The kitchen floor will be painted with stoep paint to make it easier to sweep and mop. A second coat of paint will also be applied to the interior walls and ceiling. Other minor finishing jobs will be also accomplished.
— Mwana Bermudes
Plenty Canada is currently developing an innovative water and waste management system at its head office location in Lanark, Ontario. We are seeking to incorporate and integrate methods and technologies into the renovation of our “Makwa Inn” multipurpose space that will reduce consumption of potable water, reuse both water and nutrients, as well as release the used water in both a sanitary and ecologically sound way. We are viewing both water and nutrients as part of a cycle that should be cared for and designed to be resilient.
There is currently a crises of waterway pollution in both urban and rural environments. Centralized municipal wastewater treatment plants collect human wastes and provide cursory treatment before sending millions of litres of water into natural waterways. This water is high in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as biological material, all of which starve water of oxygen. This process is called “nutrification,” and leads to a variety of destructive problems such as algae blooms and habitat loss for marine life.
The contaminated water comes from us, from our bodies and from our farmlands through the foods that we are eating. In a way, we are stripping our soils of nutrients and dumping them directly into waterways through our sewers.
Farmland Is often fertilized through artificial fertilizers or raw manure. These fertilizers filter into the soil and much of the nutrients are lost to groundwater before plants can make use of them. This contaminated ground water can filter through aquifers and drinking water supplies and eventually natural water ways, leading to the same issues of “nutrification” previously mentioned.
Another concern in heavily populated rural areas, such as around lakes, is septic fields. Current basic standards of wastewater treatment do not necessitate a high level of nutrient removal, and the nutrients from our homes can end up in our lakes, turning once clear water into murky green ponds.
A solution to many of these problems is composting. It is a process that is often misunderstood, and when it comes to composting human wastes, often vilified. By collecting and using simple natural processes to compost our waste we can convert these nutrients into sanitary and chemically stable fertilizers that do not leach nutrients in the same way commercial fertilizers or raw manures do. The implementation of this process closes the nutrient loop and returns the nutrients we have taken from the land back to the land.
True composting is a natural process powered by “thermophilic” bacteria, bacteria that live in an oxygen rich environment and thrive off of, and release, heat. These bacteria are ubiquitous in all natural environments and given the right circumstances will eat and digest our bodies unused nutrients while also starving out and cooking harmful bacteria such as E. Coli and various other pathogens and parasites which may be present in our leavings. The trick is getting the carbon – nitrogen balance correct. Properly maintained compost piles can reach temperatures of 70 degrees Celsius, temperatures which can kill most pathogenic bacteria and parasites within minutes. A pile can remain at these high temperatures for weeks or months at a time.
Plenty Canada will be incorporating a series of accessible indoor and outdoor composting toilets with a composting shed to the property to be used to collect and compost our bodies nutrients and return them to the land.
— Garrett Johnson
Plenty Canada works very closely with Indigenous professionals and elder knowledge keepers who add value to all of its endeavours. Here is a partial list of advisors who’ve assisted the organization or participated in projects and programs over the past year. What becomes evident when reading these brief bios is a combination of technical and academic skills mixed with cultural and humanistic value-based skills. Everyone within the organization takes deep pride in building and sustaining a culture of competency, understanding, and empathy.
Tauni and Aalpi Sheldon
Tauni Sheldon was born to her Inuit parents from Nunavik but was taken at birth as a Sixties Scoop baby. She was raised by her Qallunaat parents in Milton, Ontario. Tauni has spent her lifetime reconnecting with her biological family, while growing up in the "south.” She became the first female Inuit pilot, having flown in the Arctic for Air Inuit Ltd., and she has worked with federally incarcerated Inuit and Aboriginal men. Currently she works in a social capacity for all Inuit and shares her Inuit culture. Tauni and her son, Aapli embrace the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit way of learning and she is reconciling her Inuit Rites of Passage.
Tehahenteh Frank Miller
Tehahenteh Frank Miller is Turtle Clan Kenyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River Rotinonhsyon:ni (Haudenosaunee)Territory. He is a fluent Kanyen’kehaka speaker raised by his grandparents, Harry and Beatrice, who were also fluent speakers. Tehahenteh is dedicated to restoring and revitalizing Indigenous language and culture through teaching, curriculum development, public lectures, and community programs and ceremonies. In 2000, Tehahenteh co-wrote the Native Languages Curriculum Document, grades 9 to 12, for Ontario’s Ministry of Education and Training, and in 1994 was a key contributor to Literacy Ontario’s Kenyen’kehá:ka Ohyatonhkwa’shón:’a Katokénhston Tekawennatáhkwen (The Mohawk Language Standardisation Project). Tehahenteh is the author of several language textbooks including Karihonnyen:ni (The Teaching), Tsi Niyonkwawennò:ten (The Way We Speak), and Kenyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk Language). He is currently completing a comprehensive, thematic Kenyen’kehá:ka dictionary. Before his foray into Kanyen’kehá:ka teachings Tehahenteh spent 25 years as a commercial artist and business owner in Toronto, Ontario. He enjoys collecting and processing sap from his sugar bush to create ohses (maple syrup).
Barry is an Algonquin language speaker, knowledge keeper, drum carrier, and member of the Kitchissippi Rini Drum Group. He has been involved with Anishinabeg community development since 1981 with the goals of fostering the traditional and customary practices of the Algonquin Anishinabeg First Nations. The community initiatives began while attending University 1987 in North Bay Ontario. In 1990 he moved to Thunder Bay in order to benefit from closer proximity to his traditional teachers who have continually passed on many songs, ceremonies, oral histories, and sacred teachings. He graduated from the Native Teachers Program from Lake head University in Thunder Bay in July 2015.
Presently he resides in Pikwakanagan (Golden Lake, Ontario) working as an Algonquin language and cultural worker for Mndiwin Manido. He works as a community consultant developing his artwork and sits on various committees such as the Pow Wow and the Algonquin Language committees. As a part of his work, he travels to many First Nation communities and organizations to share his traditional teachings.
Albert Marshall is a highly respected and much loved Elder of the Mi’kmaw Nation. He lives in Eskasoni First Nation in Unama'ki (Cape Breton), Nova Scotia, and is a passionate advocate of cross-cultural understandings and healing and of our human responsibilities to care for all creatures and our Earth Mother. Albert is the “designated voice” with respect to environmental issues for the Mi’kmaw Elders of Unama’ki and sits on various committees that develop and guide collaborative initiatives and understandings in natural resource management, that serve First Nations’ governance issues, or that otherwise work towards ethical, environmental, social, and economic practices. He and his late wife, Murdena, coined the phrase Etuaptmumk (Two-Eyed Seeing) as a guiding principle for collaborative work which encourages learners to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing; learning to use both these eyes together for the benefit of all. Albert was an inmate of the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, for much of his childhood and teenage years. He was profoundly affected by this experience and it has led him on a lifelong quest to connect with and understand both the culture he was removed from and the culture he was forced into, to help these cultures find ways of living in mutual respect of each other’s positive attributes.
Abraham Francis has a BSc in Microbiology, 2014, and MSc in Natural Resources, 2019, from Cornell University. His past experiences include community empowerment, engagement, and research with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and a variety of other community-based organizations. His masters’ thesis focused on applied research to develop a biocultural land stewardship strategy for existing and newly settled Native American Land Claims on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, Akwesasne. Currently, he works as the environmental science officer for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Environment Program. The position allows him to develop and implement projects that are inspired and directed by community needs as well as influenced by his research interests. His research interests are at the intersection of environmental studies, Indigenous methodologies, community engagement, education, health, social services, law, and cultural foundations as a means of advancing empowerment and healing within Indigenous communities.
Rick Hill is a citizen of the Beaver Clan of the Tuscarora Nation of the Haudenosaunee at Six Nations of the Grand River. He holds a master’s degree in American Studies from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. He was the assistant director for Public Programs at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; museum director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and assistant professor of Native American Studies at SUNY Buffalo. Rick also served as senior project coordinator for the Deyohahá:ge: Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic, Ohsweken, Ontario. Currently, he is the Indigenous innovation specialist at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. Rick is working with a group of historians on a book that will examine the history and legacy of the Mohawk Institute, the oldest Indian residential school in Canada.
Elder Marilyn Capreol is Anishinaabe from Shawanaga First Nation in Ontario and is a founding member of the Conservation through Reconciliation Elder’s Lodge. Marilyn was raised on the waters of Georgian Bay. Throughout her life she has been an active volunteer. For many years she was the president of the Circle of Directors for Na Me Res, a shelter for Indigenous men in Toronto. She is also involved with the Georgian Bay Biosphere and is a member of the Indigenous Circle for the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association.
Dr. Dan Longboat
Dr. Roronhiakewen Dan Longboat (He Clears the Sky) is a Turtle Clan member of the Mohawk Nation and a citizen of the Rotinonshón:ni (Haudenosaunee , People of the Longhouse), who hails from Ohsweken in the Six Nations of the Grand River community. He is currently on leave from Trent University where he is an associate professor in the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies and acting director of the newly formed Indigenous Environmental Institute. Dan was also the founding director of the Indigenous Environmental Science Studies Program. Dan has also taught at several other post-secondary institutions in Ontario.
His Ph.D. is in Environmental Studies at York University with his dissertation, The Haudenosaunee Archipelago: The Nature of Bio-Cultural Restoration and Revitalization, receiving the York Award of Excellence in Scholarship in 2009. While speaking on Indigenous issues across Turtle Island, he stresses the importance of learning from elders and knowledge holders as the critical foundation for Indigenous identity, vision, and life purposes.
Pamela Perreault is a member of Garden River First Nation in Ontario. Her academic and
consulting careers have taken her across Canada and around the world in pursuit of knowledge
and understanding of Indigenous peoples’ connection with forested landscapes. She has
worked with First Nation governments, regional organizations, NGOs, and state governments on
projects related to resource policy development and implementation, land-use planning,
Indigenous housing, community-based research, and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) in forest certification.
Pamela has been a research fellow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, a member of the Forest Sciences Board of the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, a program coordinator in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, and a university instructor on Haida Gwaii at Algoma University. She began her academic career in biology, specializing in freshwater ecology at the University of Waterloo. She has a Master’s of Science degree in Forest Management from UBC and is co-editor of the book Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada (UBC Press 2013). In 2014, Pamela returned to her home community of Garden River First Nation with her husband and son where she served as an elected Council member for a 2-year term. Today, she happily lives and works between Vancouver Island in British Columbia and Garden River First Nation.
Winter is a beautiful time of the year here in rural Lanark, Ontario. These are Algonquin lands, which sit within a vast area between the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers and remain the traditional and existent territory of our people; meaning, it is unceded. For some 50 years I’ve lived upon and tended to 500 plus acres of diverse habitat ranging from mature forests and marshlands to grasslands and all manner of terrain indicative of the Canadian Shield. This property is bordered to the south by the region’s Mississippi River, to the west by McCullochs Mud Lake, and comprises habitat for diverse species of plants and animals. On any given morning from my back porch, I have the privilege of greeting rabbits, deer, eagles, wild turkeys, coyotes, wolves and even the occasional moose or bear.
Living within this environment is a privilege, but not one born of manufactured entitlement. Rather, it is the result of an inherent love for the land, a cultural comprehension of how all things are connected, and the recognition of and respect for natural law. By referencing natural law, I speak about the observable law relating to natural phenomena, the action and reaction and cause and effect involving all elements and lifeforms within our universe. But equally important as part of this definition is to see natural law as a body of unchanging moral principles that should serve as the basis for all human conduct.
In our Algonquin tradition, this is perhaps best described as Ginawaydaganuc. Although its translation is not easily conveyed, it essentially emerges as a concept that means or embraces all of life. Within that embrace the understanding of all of life includes mental or intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual considerations and perspectives. All of these elements are needed to establish a healthy and balanced connection to the lifeforms, elements, and energies that make our human life possible. If you don’t have all of those pieces in place then you're not properly aligned or appropriately connected.
Ginawaydaganuc is what guides my path to try and live within the carrying capacity of our local environment and to have as little impact as possible upon the broader ecosystem we all share. At home we utilize solar panels to generate all our electrical energy needs. We conduct sustainable selective harvesting of trees within our forest to provide fuel for heating through highly efficient wood furnaces. And we both hunt and grow a large garden to produce foods that are preserved in a variety of ways to supplement our annual food supply.
This same concept is what guides Plenty Canada as well. We recently completed the installation of an expanded solar voltaic system that, as you will read about in this edition of our contact newsletter, has transformed our office into a carbon negative facility. Our organisation produces more electricity than it consumes. I’m very proud of everyone who contributed to making manifest a vision we’ve held for a long time.
It’s not easy to transition oneself or one’s business or organisation or agency to sustainable practices. But at each and every level such efforts have become crucial. In his 2020 address, “The State of the Planet,” Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres painted a stark picture of the circumstances in which we now live. In his passionate and fact-filled speech, he delivered a substantial list of scientific, which is to say, evidence-based, determinations documenting the dramatic changes we observe happening to the earth, its lands, waters, and sky.
“Humanity is waging war on nature,” he said. “This year, more than 80 per cent of the world’s oceans experienced marine heatwaves. In the Arctic, 2020 has seen exceptional warmth, with temperatures more than 3 degrees Celsius above average, and more than 5 degrees in northern Siberia.”
These temperature increases are extraordinary but should come as no surprise to anyone living within Canada. We’ve literally seen and felt these changes during our lifetimes. Winters roll in later and leave earlier, its warmth leading to previously infrequent insect infestations and other changes to the cycles of life for flora and fauna.
“Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest on record, and now re-freezing has been the slowest on record,” said Guterres. “Greenland ice has continued its long-term decline, losing an average of 278 gigatons a year. Permafrost is melting and so releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal.”
How is it then that Canadian society and societies around the world fail to make the necessary adjustments? Well, it’s not the lack of knowledge. It’s not the lack of technology either. It’s the lack of a culture that places an appropriate emphasis and prioritisation on decisions and actions required to secure a viable future for the Seventh Generation, for our descendants.
The world is headed for an astonishing temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. However, the science on this matter is clear. Human beings, the cause of global warming during this era of the Anthropocene, need to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to accomplish this, fossil fuel production needs to decrease by roughly 6 per cent every year between now and 2030. Instead, said Guterres, “the world is moving in the opposite direction, planning an annual increase of 2 per cent.”
It seems to me that a little Ginawaydaganuc would go a long way. And like the song says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” and “not just for some, but for everyone.” Empathic traditions, whereby humans acknowledge and respect all things, are desperately needed now more than ever. I hope you join us in this struggle to secure a sustainable and viable future for a planet we all share.
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.
For those who grow up within the embrace of Indigenous heritage, the effects can often be profound. From an early age, Indigenous youth render and hold perspectives that foster critical thinking about what they are being taught in school. Their cultural teachings may have engendered empathy and compassion for other life forms within nature and for nature itself. As they learn more about history, they may rail against the injustices heaped upon Indigenous peoples and gain insights about the resulting deep complications and systemic derisions and divisions caused by colonial policies and practices, some of which have become internalized. And as they venture through adulthood, their identity, perspectives, knowledge, and capacity can shape actions that often lead to distinguished lives of service.
Such has been the case for Larry McDermott, executive director of Plenty Canada, whose inherited cultural instructions and lived experiences, perspectives, and knowledge, have created a legacy well known to many, not only among Indigenous peoples within Canada, but also with rural and Indigenous peoples in many other parts of the world. Seventy-three years old, with fifty of those years dedicated to assisting others in achieving their community needs and aspirations on a variety of projects spanning several sectors that have strongly interfaced with the Indigenous world.
Along the way, he’s developed expertise in national and international processes involving Indigenous environmental engagement and protection through formal conventions and declarations. These include participation in the 1991 International Conference of Environmental NGOs and Indigenous Peoples sponsored by French President Francois Mitterrand; as a member of the Indigenous delegation from Canada to the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil; follow-up meetings for the Convention on Biodiversity including Nagoya, Japan in 2010 (where the current CBD targets where established); and as a member of Indigenous delegations at various international NGO events on issues related to climate change, biodiversity, and desertification (soil loss) for over 30 years. He has also attended events involving the UN Decade of Indigenous Peoples in both New York and throughout Canada; served as an informal liaison between provincial Indigenous organizations and the Ontario Royal Commission for Land Use Planning Reform in the early 90s; and served as a board member with the Canadian Twinning Process in response to the African Famine involving Indigenous artists and political leaders.
Deeply knowledgeable, as a result of avid reading and extensive civic and institutional engagement, Larry has formed strong and long-lasting relationships with others who have also prioritized the expression and sustainability of Indigenous lifeways and the conservation of the natural world. These include, among many others, his election in 1978 to the Lavant, Dalhousie, and North Sherbrooke Township Council with the encouragement of Algonquin elders; his election as first Chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Rural Forum and Indigenous Partnerships; service for five years as the FCM board appointee to the Canadian Sustainable Communities Judges Panel; as a member of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation with Christine Stewart, who later as Minister of the Environment signed the Kyoto agreement; completion of a master’s degree focusing on non-status Indigenous cultural retention, historically, with advice for the future; and receiving parliamentary recognition for “promoting sustainability” in Plenty Canada’s project with the Mayan people of Guatemala.
Encapsulating a life informed and fulfilled by thousands of learnings, conversations, meetings, readings, writings, lectures, ceremonies, and philosophical principals absorbed and applied over a lifetime is a daunting task, particularly regarding those who possess deep passion for their identity and work and who are unrelenting in their advocacy and actions to improve the lives of others. Larry’s awareness and convictions, which began and were fostered in a family that embraced its Indigenous heritage, comprise a story that deserves affirmation and respect.
“No doubt Canada and Ontario know who they are, and their citizens enjoy the same rights throughout the land. A man in British Columbia who says I am Canadian has the same meaning as a man in Ontario who says he is Canadian. The Algonquin Nation must recognize all of its citizens as equal. They must be able to stand shoulder to shoulder and say I am an Algonquin. They must not stand and say I am non-status, I am status, I am off reserve or I am reserve. They must all be equal citizens of the Algonquin Nation.”
— Shabot Obaadjiwan Chief Doreen Davis
The story of my Indigenous ancestors and their influence
I once spoke in a national magazine article that my strongest influences on my lifestyle choices and policy making positions were my Algonquin grandmother and her daughter, my mother. Through them I also learned about my Algonquin grandfather, again on my mother’s side. He was very traditional and refused to hide his Algonquin identity despite living off reserve. I would later hear at my grandmother’s bedside 44 years ago, that racism and prejudice were intense when my mother was a child. As a result, she had decided to split the family and leave Canada to enroll her children in a boarding school in central New York State operated by the Catholic church. The boys did not stay long and ran away back to their father where they spent winters trapping and some logging. At my grandmother’s bedside, she declared her decision was a mistake, that the price was too high and that her children struggled as a result.
My grandmother told me how proud my mother was to be an “Indian” and how in certain circles of people, who held racist views, this was a problem. But my mother was determined to not let anyone intimidate her into not being proud of her identity. My mother told stories of the nuns taking the best food and how she would slip down into the kitchen at night and bring up better food for the other kids and herself. When I would suggest she was a victim she would say the experience made her strong, that justice was in the hands of the Great Spirit, and that practicing gratitude and reciprocity was key to a good life. This was an early teaching for me about standing independent of victimization and remaining steadfast in terms of one’s identity and culture.
My mother influenced my view that all humans were connected. She would remind us at meals to think of others who did not have enough food and to be grateful for the gifts that came to us. She also encouraged us to find ways of sharing with others and to not take what we didn’t need. These were early teachings involving natural law, empathy, and reciprocity that became significant underpinnings of my values and principles shaping my personal, professional, and community life. I was also taught the importance of burning tobacco, as were some of my cousins, to connect with the unseen world and to affirm our expressions of reciprocity when harvesting gifts from Mother Earth.
During my research for our community, Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, academically and for my personal interest in the oral transmission of our Algonquin knowledge, I contacted several relatives and their descendants who share either a direct line to my grandmother or grandfather. I interviewed three first cousins of my mother, over twenty second cousins and even some married-in relatives who corroborated ancestry and lived experiences. My grandmother’s and mother’s generation survived cultural, religious, and racist challenges that have been a source of inspiration. Our work at Plenty Canada, to assist others with the basic necessities of life in harmony with natural law, is partly a reflection of these traditions. Today, their manifestations include the use of solar power, redesigned traditional housing that provides passive solar heating, utilizing materials drawn from the immediate area, and supporting the retention of traditional skills.
The issue of the Indian Act and its delegation of status has caused deep ruptures among Indigenous peoples. This history is well known among those informed about the Indigenous experience. In what has been described as the ultimate act of colonization, and one could also say genocide, the policy of enfranchisement employed in the 1857 Gradual Civilization Act was continued after Confederation through the Indian Act of 1876. Enfranchisement was a process by which Indigenous people were offered Canadian citizenship when they renounced their Indian status and treaty rights. Surrendering their Indigenous identity enabled them the right to vote in Canadian elections, own property, and keep their children out of residential schools. Enfranchisement remained an entrenched policy in the Indian Act until amendments were made in 1985 to align it with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These and other social impediments and practices caused deep harm to generations of families with Indigenous heritage.
Today, there exist both status and non-status Indigenous communities, a reality that has been dealt with respectfully by some, and not by others. An Algonquin elder who was known far and wide for his knowledge of our culture and traditions, Fred Antoine, signed an affidavit on December 28, 1995 that said, “his grandfather and father would not go live on a reserve or be status because they didn’t want to be hemmed in,” did not want status because “future generations of his family could be cut off,” and that “carrying a status card would not make him any more Indian than he is.”
The Indian Act was designed to get rid of the “Indian problem” and its legacy has been to establish a false separation that has created a distrust for our own peoples and traditions. How interesting and restorative it is, therefore, that Article 9 in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reads:
• Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an Indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such right.
Article 33 reads:
• Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
Colonialism ignores the promises made to share the land respecting natural law and to bring forward a full embrace of our collective legal systems. The challenges facing the survival of the next seven generations requires, as Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall councils, “Two Eyed Seeing,” or, as Algonquin Elder William Commanda promoted, “A Circle of All Nations: A Culture of Peace” moving together with “one mind, one heart, and one determination.”
At Plenty Canada we are inspired by Indigenous elders who have shared their knowledge, vision, and concrete advice for actions to heal Mother Earth and all the life upon her. My commitment reflects everything I’ve learned in connection with my family’s teachings and all of the knowledge and insights gained throughout my life.
— Larry McDermott