Plenty Canada has completed Year 1 of its Greenbelt Foundation funded project entitled Nbwaakaawining binjibaamgad Gkendmaawziwin (Wisdom from Knowledge): Documenting and Sharing the Indigenous Biocultural Richness of the Greenbelt. In partnership with Guelph University and allegiance with the Bruce Trail Conservancy, Indigenous knowledge and Western science were used to identify and assess the presence and status of Indigenous plants within Ontario’s Greenbelt. The work involved conducting comprehensive Indigenous ethnobotanical research and biodiversity surveys at 23 sites, analyzing a total of 69 plots, along historic Indigenous trails within the Greenbelt.
The primary goal of the project was to begin restoring Indigenous knowledge, visibility and character to the Greenbelt as an important Indigenous cultural landscape within Ontario. The project has four Activities to be executed over two to three years:
• Research and completion of an ethnobotanical survey of culturally significant plants in the Greenbelt, including medicinal trees and plants (where deemed culturally appropriate and safe) and Indigenous foods and uses in the Greenbelt, e.g., spring ephemerals, summer berries, fruits and vegetables, autumn nuts, roots, and mushrooms.
• The technical adaptation of Plenty Canada’s existing prototype interactive digital map of the Niagara Escarpment to cover the entire Greenbelt region. In using this established platform, which has been developed in consultation with numerous Indigenous advisors over the past several years, the Greenbelt Indigenous plant survey will indicate areas and ethnobotanical plant knowledge and information, and will receive its own name and identity that will be activated during Year 2.
• The development of a pedagogical strategy that utilizes the Indigenous biocultural mapping content to appropriately process and share Indigenous histories, knowledge, and stories of the Greenbelt in ways that will make learning accessible, interesting, enjoyable, and purposeful. Place-based learning, sometimes called pedagogy of place, has gained ascension in teaching practices and educational curricula for its immersive and experiential qualities that connect students to local heritage, cultures, landscapes, ecosystems, and experiences that serve as a foundation for understanding Indigenous histories and scientific knowledge.
• The production of an ethnoecological Indigenous plant field guide in both digital and print publication formats to enhance and support cross-cultural training for the public with particular attention paid to the membership of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance in forging and sustaining partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of the Greenbelt. The web platform will be entitled the Greenbelt Indigenous Botanical Survey and the print product will be named the Greenbelt Indigenous Botanical Field Guide.
Some of the outcomes of this project, prior to publication, are the development and facilitation of relationships between Indigenous knowledge holders and conservation organizations in the Greenbelt. These relationships are significant and burgeoning. The team’s ethnobotanical, archival and field research provides evidence that the Greenbelt is an important Indigenous cultural and biological landscape, and has been, for thousands of years. Thus our project aim and methods are to demonstrate the Greenbelt’s cultural and ecological necessity to southern Ontario, as a landscape that provides critical biodiversity and ecosystem services, but is also a beautiful and accessible public good across cultures, which can be enjoyed and cared for by everyone.
Learning cultural relationships with these landscapes helps empower people to know, appreciate, and protect them. As well, the data we have collected far supersedes the amount we will use. For example, more than one thousand herbaria specimens collected by the team will be useful, for years and years after this project, in demonstrating the plant biodiversity of the Greenbelt. In addition, all of the gathered ethnobotanical and archival data gathered from museum collections is shared among the Indigenous cultural educators on the project, who can in turn use it for their pedagogy.
Our publications, the field guide and digital atlas, will be broadly accessible and aesthetically beautiful productions for the public to use, to engage in place-based learning when they travel to locations throughout the Greenbelt.
We intend for these works to be ready for publication by December 2023. It is also worth noting that some of the sites the team surveyed are in close proximity to areas proposed in Bill 23 to be removed from protection within the Greenbelt (Boyd Conservation Area, two blocks from Vaughan North of Teston Road and East of Pine Valley Drive; Dundas Valley Conservation area in Hamilton, two blocks from development south of Garner road West, between Fiddler’s Green Road and Shaver Road). Thus, the project has generated current data from this year, on plant and tree species diversity and richness of those protected areas.
— Tim Johnson, Jessica Dolan, Yu Zhao (Mia) Ni