Plenty Canada has long been an organization that both attracts and nurtures exceptional talent. Guided by our values and collaborative practice of partnering with other community-minded individuals and organizations to complete good works over a period of 45 years, we’ve aligned with some truly inspiring professionals.
To mention just a few who I believe would qualify as significant leaders among their people were John Hardbattle, who advocated for the rights of N/oakhwe communities across Botswana. The N/oakhwe, who are more commonly referred to as the Bushmen, Bararwa, or San, are an Indigenous people of southern Africa. John was an amazing cultural interpreter who gathered the testimony and expressions of village leadership and helped us all better understand the impacts and distress caused by Botswana’s resettlement program, of life before and after fences divided the Kalahari, and of the needs of the country’s Indigenous people to sustain their traditional food supplies and lifeways. John died far too young and will forever be missed by those of us who knew and loved him.
Sam Mercado, a Miskito leader from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, was instrumental in securing and directing reconstruction and rehabilitation resources to Indigenous communities destroyed during the Contra War. It would be impossible to overstate Sam’s carefully guided management and delivery of Plenty Canada resources used to replant fruit orchards and to rebuild homes and community buildings. Sam was instrumental in the development of Pana Pana (Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica) which leverages resources from governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote and strengthen the development of sustainable infrastructure to deliver potable water, sanitation, and hygiene services. He continues to work hard for his people.
In our April donor letter, I highlighted the work of Mwana Bermudes, who deserves additional affirmation here as Plenty Canada's stalwart field project coordinator in southern Africa. Our association with Mwana extends back to our earliest years in the 1980s when Plenty Canada was developing the Village Technology and Training Centre (VTTC) in the Quthing River Valley of Lesotho. Over a period of more than 40 years he’s led numerous projects (potable water, sanitation, agriculture, forestry, etc.) that have improved the lives of thousands of rural villagers. His generous and genuine soul, combined with his multiple skill sets and talents, including music and photography, make Mwana Plenty Canada’s favourite renaissance man.
Peigi Wilson, research manager for the First Nations Information Governance Centre in Ottawa, supports the development of Indigenous capacity as an important pathway to First Nations self-determination. As a board member of our organization, she has provided stable guidance and applied a broad range of skill sets that have strengthened our work across the board. From serving as the director of Environmental Stewardship at the Assembly of First Nations, to facilitating municipal water service agreements at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and as a consultant for Global Affairs and Canada employees on recognition and reconciliation issues, Peigi brings to the table significant policy experience and professional practice.
It’s been an honour to have been associated with so many admirable and highly credentialed colleagues over the years.
Jeff Beaver, a long-time associate who hails from Alderville First Nation has led many programs for Plenty Canada. His life’s work, which has upheld the knowledge and traditions of the Mississauga Anishinabeg of the Ojibway Nation, is comprehensive. From working with Parks Canada in many capacities including that of Wasagaming Townsite warden, through his service as resource management co-ordinator and facilitator of projects with the Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario, to working with our organization on developing youth training around manoomin (wild rice) seeding and harvesting, he’s become a respected and cherished member of our team.
Another of our standouts is esteemed Mohawk elder and midwife Katsi Cook, who led a Plenty Canada-supported program called The First Environment back in the 90s and who remains a close friend to this day. Katsi is an advocate of Indigenous women’s health, drawing from a longhouse traditionalist perspective the idea of Woman as the First Environment. For the past 25 years she’s worked at the intersections of environmental health and justice and reproductive research and policy. Katsi is a founding member of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, a researcher, and a lecturer on Indigenous environmental reproductive health. She is currently the director of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program.
Mafika Ludidi arrived in Canada after being exiled from his home country of South Africa during the Apartheid scourge. He never once lost sight of his own people’s plight while working as a development education specialist with Plenty Canada. When conditions were right for his return, Ludidi was greeted as a hero by his community in the Transkei region. Among our staff who were present and fortunate to have witnessed the event, they likened his entrance into the celebration hall to that of Moses parting the Red Sea, as throngs of well wishers joyously jumped into the air as he walked down the aisle. Ludidi went on to initiate Plenty Canada projects dealing with potable water supply and agriculture before his untimely death. His story and that of John Hardbattle remind us of just how precious and precarious life can be, but also of the significant impacts one can have when dedicated to right and just causes.
And then there’s Tim Johnson, Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, who served as communications director for Plenty Canada back in the early 1990s and continues to be an active partner today. His work built a loyal donor base for our organization, which has remarkably survived through some 30 years of institutional evolution. Tim’s career eventually led him to the Smithsonian Institution where he served in senior management at the National Museum of the American Indian for 11 and ½ years, ten of those as associate director for Museum Programs overseeing exhibitions and public programs. Many of you may know Tim for his multiple award-winning film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World, which emerged from a Smithsonian exhibition he initiated and directed. Tim currently heads up our Six Nations bureau office.
This partial list (with apologies to dozens of others who’ve built impactful careers and successful lives) provides insight into how even a modest grassroots organization like Plenty Canada can make a difference in the world. Our primary goal for the past 45 years has been to simply help people where and when we can, particularly those who’ve been neglected, mistreated, or otherwise ignored, like Indigenous peoples. And when I look out at the incredibly bright and talented young professionals who’ve come through Plenty Canada in more recent years, I’m encouraged by their intelligence, commitment, and decency.
Together, our accomplished elders and talented young people give me cause to believe in a bright and hopeful future.
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.
This summer Plenty Canada will be kicking off the Ginawaydaganuc Project, a new food sovereignty program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
Over the next several months Rosie Kerr, a post-doctoral fellow at Lakehead University, and Project Coordinator Sarah Craig will compile data on past and present food systems in Indigenous communities and examine what works, what doesn’t, and why. The end goal of the project is to create an informed digital platform where Indigenous people can learn and connect and share resources to build food sovereignty programs within their own communities.
The Ginawaydaganuc Project is being run in partnership with four Indigenous-led and Indigenous-serving organizations. These include Canadian Feed the Children, Northern Manitoba Food Community Culture Collaborative, the Northern Ontario Indigenous Food Sovereignty Collaborative, and, of course, Plenty Canada. This consortium of organizations aims to harness community relationships and experiences from 180 Indigenous communities spanning six provinces, with the potential to involve many more as the project leads the charge toward community-driven food system change.
But what is food sovereignty? It involves 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 agriculture systems. It’s about having access to self-determination and security, both environmentally and economically, of food production and distribution.
These rights are also recognized under international policy such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although aspects of food sovereignty are interwoven throughout the entire declaration, it is directly related to Article 3 (the right to self-determination), Article 7 (the right to physical and mental integrity, freedom, peace, and security), and Article 29 (the right to conservation and protection of the environment and productive capacity of their lands and resources).
Beyond meeting nutritional needs, food sovereignty plays many vital roles. After all, why not simply expand status quo, donated, ready to use food products? This already tenuous system was nearly completely derailed by COVID and left front line workers scrambling to meet the needs of those dependent on them. The project aims to build more resilient and independent food systems in Indigenous communities that can better handle adversity in the future. Lack of food accessibility is a symptom of a broader problem, namely colonization. Food sovereignty has the potential to provide healing through decolonization. It also facilitates connections to culture, community, environment and health, partly through revitalizing traditional agricultural practices that have a positive regenerative impact on the environment.
In creating this digital platform where Indigenous peoples can learn, connect, and share resources to build food sovereignty programs that are informed by traditional agricultural practices as well as modern farming methods, the Ginawaydaganuc Project hopes to make the most of food’s ability to provide connections to culture, healing, and security.
— Sarah Craig
You have probably heard of invasive species or alien species. Maybe you have a boat and have been advised to “clean, drain, and dry” your boat after removing it from a body of water. Or maybe you’ve heard of invasive plants such as purple loosestrife or wild parsnip. But what are invasive alien species and why are they a threat?
Alien species are plants, animals, or microorganisms introduced by human activities to areas outside their natural past or present distribution through many different intentional and unintentional pathways. Some of these include ship’s ballast water, recreational boating, aquarium trade, pet trade, personal and commercial horticulture, forestry, baitfish and live bait releases, “hitchhikers” on commodities (particularly shipping crates and firewood), and stowaways on various other forms of transportation. In addition, some have been introduced as a strategy to control an existing invasive species, to varying degrees of success.
The impacts of alien species vary. Some will be ill-suited for the environment to which they are introduced and won’t survive for long. Some may be able to survive and live in harmony with their new ecosystem. Some however, will not only survive but, lacking natural balancing agents (such as predators) that were present in their place of origin, are able to outcompete native species, including traditional medicine plants. In this case, the alien species disrupt the natural relationships of the web of life. They may be able to spread rapidly and displace native species or become a predator, parasite, or disease to a native species. These alien species are considered invasive, as they disrupt natural communities, threatening the environment, including humans and the ways in which we rely on the natural world.
The European gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) has over 300 host tree species and is most destructive in its larval stage, when it can defoliate entire trees, including oak, maple, birch, white pine, white spruce, alder, and hawthorne. Repeated defoliation makes trees susceptible to other pests and diseases and can eventually lead to tree death. This year in Ontario, reports are pouring in of unusually high numbers of gypsy moth. If you spot them on your property, learn how to deal with them by going to invasivespeciescentre.ca. (photos by Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org.)
The problem is exacerbated by human activities that damage the natural resistance of plant and animal communities to invasive species intrusion. These alterations include climate change, removing forest canopy, converting habitat, adding roads, and developing shorelines. Invasive species are able to be more successful in eastern Ontario (and other places) due to these ecological stressors on our native species.
In 2010, Plenty Canada published a report titled Invasive Species in Eastern Ontario: Some Aboriginal Perspectives. This report stemmed from the idea that our management decisions have failed to include the needs of our native species of plants and animals and that we must learn how to work with nature instead of against it in order to prevent and manage the spread of invasive species. This summer, Plenty Canada will be updating this report and making it available online. So, keep an eye out for the publication of the new revised version to learn more about how the issue of invasive species is viewed through the lens of Two-Eyed Seeing.
Throughout the summer we will also be identifying and monitoring invasive species on the 500-acre Algonquin nature preserve where our office resides and creating some educational resources about invasive species that are found in our region. Refer to our website for those as well.
For now, to learn more about how to identify, report, and prevent the spread of invasive species in Ontario go to invadingspecies.com.
Non-invasive plants for your garden
Clean, drain, dry your boat
Reporting an invasive species is easy!
— Emily Morris’ environmental initiatives conducted with Plenty Canada are funded by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters under the Invading Species Awareness Program. She is a member of the Invading Species Hit Squad: http://www.invadingspecies.com/programs/hit-squad/.
As Phase One of the Plenty Canada CampUs renovations draw to a close, it feels like a fitting time to pause and reflect on the principles that have guided the process so far. This Trillium Foundation funded capital project has allowed our organization to become even more rooted and connected to this beautiful Algonquin environment, as we invest in renovating our structures and planning our work for generations to come.
Buildings too often have the effect of separating us from our surroundings, yet they are essential components of our daily lives that influence how we interpret and interact between human-constructed and natural environments. The layout of our rooms and common areas affect how we gather. Windows and doors facilitate our connections to the outdoors. And the materials we choose determine the impacts we have on our surroundings.
The work we do on, and within, our buildings present us with opportunities to do great good or great harm. Such opportunities challenge us to define what we believe is important. Under the leadership of Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott, we have continually asked ourselves these fundamental questions. Through the lens of Two-Eyed Seeing, what does sustainable building look like? Within the rubric of truth and reconciliation and environmental justice, how can our buildings reflect our values and our work?
To answer these questions, we turned to important voices in the field of Indigenous architecture. These include internationally renowned architect Douglas Cardinal and the seventeen other distinguished Indigenous architects who created the exhibition Unceded: Voices of the Land for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. We also consulted Patrick Stewart’s dissertation Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge: Dion Sagalt'apkw Nisim (Together We Will Build a Village). In addition, Bruce King and Chris Magwood, who have advanced to mainstream audiences, data related to carbon storage within buildings, were important influences on our thinking. From those sources, we developed a starting point to define sustainable building practices at Plenty Canada. These include:
Place-based approach: To design buildings that operate in conjunction with our surroundings, using local materials and employing a collaborative design process.
Embracing, representing, and reflecting Indigenous culture: To provide a space for cultural practices, teachings, and ceremonies where multiple generations may gather.
Ecological Responsibility: To design our buildings and the surrounding landscape to be safe for human and non-human users to protect and enhance biodiversity and be low-carbon in construction and operation.
Our current building industry is doing well at producing energy-efficient buildings. However, at Plenty Canada, we are equally concerned with how we get energy-efficient buildings. We are concerned with where the materials come from and the impacts of harvesting and manufacturing. We are concerned with the safety of installation for our tradespeople and with how materials will impact indoor air quality and the health of our occupants. We are also concerned with what toxins materials put into our surroundings and how much carbon was emitted into the environment from their extraction, manufacturing, and transportation.
That’s a lot to take into consideration. But as an example, let’s examine Plenty Canada’s wall system to see how we have made our decisions.
1. Fibreboard: We wrapped the whole building in a layer of fibreboard to increase insulation value. This fibreboard is manufactured in Quebec and is 97 percent wood fibre, with the rest being a wax binder. The most common choice for continuous insulation today is rigid foam panels. However, fibreboard has many fewer negative impacts on our environment and is, in fact, a carbon sink.
2. Weather and air barrier: Durability is essential for low-impact buildings and the number one obstacle to durability is water. We must keep our buildings dry. We selected a very durable, 3-ply weather barrier that while airtight, is vapour permeable so any moisture in the building can dry to the exterior. (Buildings don’t need to breathe, but they do need to dry.)
3. Rain screen and strapping: Strapping is essential to allow airflow behind our building and encourage drying. Strapping should only be laid vertically against the building wall, to allow drainage. If vertical siding is installed (as in our case), a second layer of horizontal strapping should be installed. In our case, we were able to reuse our old, weathered cedar siding as strapping.
4. Eastern white cedar siding: This siding was supplied by Don McGovern who runs a cedar mill just down the road from the Plenty Canada CampUs. Cedar has excellent longevity as siding because of its natural oils. Unlike western red cedar, eastern white cedar is grown in our local area and transported minimal distances.
5. Linseed Oil Paint: Linseed oil paint is an all-natural paint made of boiled linseed (flax) oil and natural pigments. It contains no solvents and is free from petroleum products. The oil penetrates the wood, rather than forming a coat, like latex paint. Because of this, the paint doesn’t peel, it simply fades. The paint is much more durable than latex paints and stains, which is of particular concern for the south and west facing sides of our buildings.
As the exterior of the building finishes up, we turn to the interior renovations. We have selected linseed oil paints for the interior, as well as Marmoleum flooring, a resilient flooring made from flax.
While social distancing has disrupted our in-person workshops, we are grateful to the opportunity to create a healthy and welcoming space for our programming. We look forward to opening our doors in the near future for our workshops and gatherings. We hope the work on our CampUs will help demonstrate the important role of sustainable building within our mission and inspire our visitors to apply Two-Eyed Seeing principles to building projects in their own lives.
— Lindey Touzel
Introducing Lindey Touzel
Lindey Touzel is an aspiring natural builder, having come to this field five years ago while seeking the intersection of environmental justice, craft, and design. She graduated from Algonquin College’s Heritage Carpentry program in 2020, after spending two years learning from passionate craftspeople who believe in thoughtful building. It was during this time that she started working for Plenty Canada on what has now become the CampUs capital project. Lindey says it has been an honour learning how to apply the principles of Two-Eyed Seeing to the field of sustainable building and to contribute to this important project.
Like its Lanark headquarters, Plenty Canada’s satellite office in Six Nations of the Grand River is also committed to reducing its carbon footprint. The bureau is housed within the complex of The Bear’s Inn that features a 10-kilowatt microFIT system which generates more than enough clean renewable electricity to offset office operations.
The grounds of the complex also feature a young forest that was planted nine years ago. Supported by grant resources dedicated to reforestation efforts in the community, Kayanase Ecological Restoration planted 1,362 trees of indigenous Carolinian forest variety in five acres of unused lawn. These varieties included black cherry, hackberry, red oak, bur oak, red osier dogwood, and swamp milkweed. Should forty percent of the trees survive, and natural reproduction occur as the forest matures, then in four decades this new forest will have sequestered approximately 544 tons (or 1,088,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide.
An additional 1,000 trees were recently planted on complex-owned lands north of HWY 54 and over time more renewal energy enhancements are anticipated, including the installation of a charging unit for electric cars in the office parking lot.
Plenty Canada has had an active presence in the Six Nations and Niagara peninsula region for several years. The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map is directed from this office and the Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiative has included significant Plenty Canada involvement. The bureau has also served as base for extension activities associated with Guelph University’s Master of Conservation Leadership Program, connecting conservation professionals with Indigenous historic, cultural, and natural world locations.
— Tim Johnson
Children’s shoes placed on the steps of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in memory of the 215 children found in a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (photo by Tim Johnson)
Since 1976 when Plenty Canada first coalesced and activated in response to an earthquake that devastated Mayan communities in Guatemala, our organization has worked closely with Indigenous peoples to affirm and support their rightful roles in the pantheon of nations that comprise human civilization on Earth. In the pursuit of truth and justice and recognizing the profound need to respect human rights and promote and restore equality, Indigenous peoples should be free from discrimination of any kind.
Recent news that 215 Indigenous children were found buried in a mass grave at the Kamloops Residential School has been devastating to our organization, to our community, and to all those across the country whose empathy and decency have been roiled by shock, dismay, and pain. As an Indigenous organization, whose family members and associates have been impacted directly by Canada’s residential school policies and who continue to contend with generational trauma, we are reminded on a regular basis the extent of this tragic history. But nothing prepared us for this, for such a stark and horrific realization of the pain and suffering evidenced by this terrible discovery.
In our attempts to process events and realizations such as these, we must also confront the lingering impacts of colonialism, of rationalization born of entitlement, that not only dehumanize Indigenous peoples, but also damage our sacred earth’s delicate balance. These outcomes are connected, they are related. Whether a violation of natural law or a violation of human rights, we are now forced to ponder, have we been inadequately describing residential school policies as “cultural” destruction, when it would appear they meet the full and complete United Nations definition of genocide, full stop?
It is therefore with collective grieving hearts that we extend our most sincere and heartfelt sympathy to the families of the 215 children who did not survive the Kamloops Residential School, and to all those within Canada who are feeling the deep and seemingly indelible effects of this recurring and dreadful nightmare.
If you or any of your family members, friends, or associates need someone with whom to talk or communicate, please consider contacting the National Indian Residential School Survivors Crisis Line, which is available 24-hours per day for anyone experiencing pain or distress caused by a residential school experience.
Welcome to the first issue of our new online newsletter, Contact.
We used to distribute a print newsletter under the same name many years ago and have decided to revive Contact digitally. This newsletter will be delivered to you four times a year (once every season) and will be focused on telling informative stories about our ongoing and future projects. While we're happy with the pace of our regular donor letters at this point, we'd like to go into more detail about the ways in which your donations are changing lives and safeguarding our planet's future.
And in my mind, there is no better time to revive a newsletter that's focused on keeping you informed and engaged as an invaluable donor. Though it remains, of course, quite difficult for us to hold in-person events at the moment, we hope to use this newsletter to remind you that our operational efforts have continued at the same pace throughout 2020 and into 2021. In fact, you could almost say that we've become even busier this past year!
The stories that make up each newsletter will act as a window into our current and planned activities, a testament to the tireless efforts of our staff, valued partners, and volunteers. Articles featured in this issue provide insights into Plenty Canada’s raison d'être and address activities ranging from Truth and Reconciliation training for youth, to the healing nature of reforestation, to the preservation of ancient birchbark canoe making skills, to our emerging campus being designed in accordance with sustainable building principles identified by world-renowned Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal (lodged within 500 acres of diverse Algonquin land, the campus will be used to provide Indigenous cultural and environmental education). These are all projects that fulfill our mandate in ways that we hope to continue in 2021 and beyond.
You will read about the past, present, and future of these projects, but most importantly you will be introduced to many of our long-time friends and partners. These friends of ours have always been essential to our continued success, for without the artistic skill of people like Chuck Commanda, the genius of Douglas Cardinal, or the generosity of organizations like South Nation Conservation, we simply wouldn't be able to improve lives in the way that we do.
Though it might be some time yet before we can safely hold a lot of in-person events here at Plenty Canada, we are preparing. Thanks to our friends and partners (including you), our commitment has only grown stronger throughout this past year. I'm confident that 2021 will be a year of growth and change, a year filled with new stories and new accomplishments. It is our honour to be able to share some of these stories here, in Contact, with you.
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.
(Plenty Canada executive director Larry McDermott. Photo by markzelinski.com)
Algonquin birchbark canoe maker Chuck Commanda held a successful mini birchbark canoe-making workshop, hosted on Zoom, from his home in Quebec. In an effort to adjust to health and safety measures required during the pandemic, Plenty Canada chose to expand the scope of its online educational workshops, viewing them as a valuable alternative to in-person events during this uncertain period. This new organizational effort, which began this past month, is designed to bring distant people together through hands-on arts education, but conducted online.
Since he was a young boy, Chuck learned and has practised multiple Indigenous art forms and disciplines, eventually earning recognition as one of the few master artisans remaining who build birchbark canoes in the traditional Algonquin style. The grandson of the renowned Algonquin elder and environmental activist William Commanda, Chuck has worked for many years to preserve and promote the art forms he practises, including birchbark basket making, storytelling, and Indigenous knowledge education, often done in partnership with Plenty Canada. This particular project enabled him to shift his activities to a digital space.
In order to successfully carry out such an event, a great deal of advance preparation was required. A week before the event, Plenty Canada packed individualized boxes for each participant, which contained all of the necessary supplies (wound up sinew, red willow freshly picked by Chuck himself, an etching tool, etc.). The participants were also given a Plenty Canada T-shirt and a small book on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. Because of a need to ensure the natural boat-building ingredients remained fresh enough for everyone to use, these special packages were sent out shortly before the webinar. Despite two snowstorms (on top of pre-existing delays imposed by the pandemic), all of the participants from across Ontario received their packages in time to participate.
During the workshop the participants were given detailed instructions on how to sew the sinew into the side of the miniature canoes, attach the birch bark, and etch patterns into the canoe's sides. Chuck was present throughout in order to answer questions and provide individualized help, ensuring that each participant was able to create a lovely, personalized canoe to cherish.
Due to the success of this program, thanks to the combination of Chuck Commanda’s expertise and the organization’s digital specialists, Plenty Canada is planning on holding additional digital cultural arts training workshops in the future. These will be promoted here on our website and social media.
(Image: Screen capture of Chuck Commanda, upper left, master birchbark artist and canoe maker, who leads students in Plenty Canada’s Birch Bark Canoe Workshop. Also pictured are Sophie Handley-Girard, Haley Alcock, Draven Timmerman, Marilyn Capreol, Joanna Jack, Kathleen Godfrey, Lily Mae Peters, Trevor Fung, Randa Hassan, Emma Carey, Brooke Renaud, Dolly Roul, Sam Yee, and Amy Tenbult.)
For almost 40 years, Plenty Canada’s office has served as an important gathering place for cross-cultural work. Nestled within a 500-acre Algonquin nature preserve, bordered on the south by Ontario’s Mississippi River and on the west by Mud Lake, and featuring diverse ecosystems inhabited by all manner of plants and animals, it has long hosted visitors from its projects in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and, of course, Canada.
An incredible amount of history is imbedded within the site, evidenced by the wear and tear on the main office building and its adjacent annex, a secondary building once identified for environmental research residencies, programming, and additional office space. Due to the deterioration of these buildings, several years ago Plenty Canada embarked on a campaign to reconceptualize, resource, and renovate its physical properties.
That work began in earnest with the arrival of capital funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. But the stage was set years ago during visioning sessions held with world renowned Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, designer of numerous iconic buildings including the Museum of History in Gatineau and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. In 2008, Cardinal and Lee Bushey, an architectural student at the time, developed a holistic vision for the creation of an integrated structural and landscape complex, drawing up plans that have served as an important guide for what is now being called the Plenty Canada CampUs.
These current capital projects are designed to upgrade and repurpose the complex as a land-based learning centre. The main office building is undergoing a wide variety of renovations in order to better serve its evolving needs as an active space for environmental and Indigenous bio-cultural education. Originally built with energy efficiencies in mind, including burrowing the first level north portion of the building into the side of a hill, and installing large south facing windows to take advantage of passive solar gain, new upgrades are being made. These include wrapping the building in a new layer of wood fibre insulation and locally produced cedar siding, installing new high-tech windows, and replacing dated infrastructure equipment with energy efficient HVAC system mechanicals to meet Plenty Canada’s energy reduction goals.
Plenty is also expanding its pre-existing solar energy investments (including microFIT) by installing off-the-grid and net metering technologies. Even the water systems at the Plenty Canada office will be altered to become more environmentally efficient, made possible by funding for innovative drinking and wastewater management systems.
Attention is also being paid to finalizing renovations to the secondary building on the Plenty Canada grounds. The two-story building is both spacious and modern, opening up new possibilities for Plenty Canada to establish in-person residencies and expand its training options. After the electrical system and plumbing have been completed, the secondary building will be able to support additional office space, guest rooms, and a common area for educational programs. Once this building is activated, the organization will double its onsite operational and project capacity.
All of these renovations are united by the idea that environmental efficiency and sustainability should be the highest priority of any responsible renovation project. In this way, Plenty Canada hopes to inspire other community organizations, indivudals, and the youth who will eventually visit and spend time at the CampUs, urging them to to think about sustainable building options in their own lives.
The land-based learning centre will develop and deliver an Indigenous led curriculum that fills gaps in current secondary and post-secondary education. The centre will host workshops that teach students to merge Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Western science, a practice known as Two-Eyed Seeing.
Despite current COVID-19 limitations on gatherings that will no doubt remain in place for much of this year, 2021 will nevertheless be a time of growth and expansion for Plenty Canada facilities. As a testament to Plenty's continued commitment to environmental sustainability and education, you will be able to follow progress of the CampUs through regular updates in our Contact newsletter.
(Images: Plenty Canada’s main office in Lanark undergoes energy efficiency upgrades as part of the organization’s capital renovation project to create a CampUs for training and project management.)
In partnership with community groups and organizations, including Forests Ontario and South Nation Conservation, Plenty Canada planted 250 culturally significant trees on the traditional territory of Algonquin and Mohawk peoples in Shanly, Ontario. Dubbed “The Healing Place,” it represents the beginning of reconciliation efforts seeking to strengthen relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in support of sustainable and shared environmental initiatives.
The design of the Healing Place was created with the intent of representing practices acknowledged by both Indigenous knowledge systems and western science. Planted as a circular area modelled after the Anishinaabek Medicine Wheel, its quadrants represent the four pillars that connect life: Mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Furthermore, the quadrants also represent the four cardinal directions which both centre and guide all peoples.
The specific colors of the Medicine Wheel vary between cultures, but for this project the four stations of the site were colored red, white, yellow, and black. The species of trees chosen for the project were also meant to be broadly appealing in a symbolic sense. The four cardinal directions are highlighted through planting an appropriate tree at the edge of each quadrant (for instance, a red oak is planted due north). The interior of the Healing Place's centre garden contains seven trees, representing the Seven Grandfather Teachings. The outside area of the garden is surrounded by an additional thirteen trees, representing the Thirteen Grandmother teachings. The entire garden will eventually contain walking trails, so that The Healing Place can become a publicly available space for relaxation, education, and reconciliation.
The project began at a 2019 meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Whitehorse, Yukon. Two members of the Assembly, Curtis Scurr and Eli Enns, discussed the possibility of offsetting the carbon they expended in order to travel to the conference. It was decided that tree planting would be an effective (and tangible) way to offset the carbon expended by the event. They brought this idea to Plenty Canada's Executive Director Larry McDermott, who then invited additional partners into the fold. Forests Ontario, which is dedicated to making Ontario’s forests greener, joined quickly and secured a location for The Healing Place through a partnership with South Nation Conservation, an agency that has a long and strong history in watershed management and sustainable practices.
Though the planting event itself was a tremendous accomplishment, Plenty Canada and its project partners hope to continue to expand their environmental conservation and reconciliation efforts throughout the coming years. The group envisions planting multiple “healing places” to provide tangible offsets that help community and business organizations hold themselves accountable for their own carbon emissions.
(Top Photos: 1) Bill Montgomery, Haida, Indigenous Education Lead with the Upper Canada District School Board and Chris Craig, Algonquin, Senior Forestry Technician at South Nation Conservation preside at ceremonies for The Healing Place. 2) Aerial view of the opening ceremony at the Healing Place)