The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere is where biological and cultural diversities should be celebrated and supported. The relationship with land, sky, and waters by peoples who have lived and continue to live in this region is significant for the well-being of all life.
In the fall of 2019, the Niagara Escarpment Transition Leadership Committee was put together to rethink the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere and reengage with partners, including, importantly, Indigenous peoples whose territories host the lands identified by the designation. Through an agreement between the Transition Leadership Committee and Plenty Canada, with support from Environment and Climate Change Canada, work is underway to engage in a process consistent with recommendations from Pathway to Canada Target 1, including the reports One With Nature, Canada’s Conservation Vision, and We Rise Together.
On April 22nd, many gathered on a beautiful, sunny spring day at The Brown Homestead in St. Catharines, Ontario, to witness new grassroots, not-for-profit organization being unveiled and to honour Earth Day and the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages. The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network is now the official entity working on the mandate and designation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere in consultation with UNESCO.
Full and enthusiastic turnout for the launch of the NIAGARA ESCARPMENT BIOSPHERE NETWORK, which is now the official entity working on the mandate and designation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere in consultation with UNESCO. We can't say enough about the intelligence, energy, and commitment brought forward by our presenters and participating organizations. Andrew Humeniuk, Executive Director of The Brown Homestead; Liette Vasseur, UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability at Brock University; Larry McDermott, Executive Director of Plenty Canada; Bradley May, Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network Board Member and Brock University Professor; Lynn Wells, Interim President of Brock University; Sean Kennedy, President of Niagara College Canada; Alyssa General, Kanien'kéha Language Educator; and Walter Sendzik, Mayor of St. Catharines all conveyed good words about working together to sustain the Biosphere. Organizations represented included the City of St. Catharines, Six Nations of the Grand River, Niagara Regional Native Centre, Town of Lincoln, Brock University, Niagara College Canada, Guelph University, Bruce Trail Conservancy, Niagara Parks Commission, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Royal Botanical Gardens, Niagara Escarpment for Sustainable Tourism, Trout Unlimited Canada, Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System, The Brown Homestead and Plenty Canada, of course, and many others.
The stage is set for serious engagement across the entire Niagara Escarpment Biosphere over the next several years. Supported by a three-year federal grant from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Plenty Canada, as an Indigenous non-governmental organization, will be partnering, nurturing, and assisting in the development of the emerging Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network. Andrew Humeniuk, executive director of The Brown Homestead, welcomed guests and introduced Tim Johnson, senior advisor to Plenty Canada, who hosted the event.
Tim first introduced Alyssa M. General from Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan, who, as an artist, educator, and language revivalist welcomed guests in Kanien'kéha (Mohawk) language. The next to speak was Liette Vasseur, UNESCO chair on community sustainability at Brock University, and a professor in the department of biological sciences. Vasseur presented the history of the development of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network and spoke to guests about the vital importance of bringing forth a grassroots organization led by the guidance of the Indigenous organization, and connecting organizations and peoples associated with conservation and sharing responsibility for protecting the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere's precious ecosystems. Vasseur also provided information about some of the focus areas the network will concentrate on, including ecotourism and sustainable development.
“She (Alyssa General) said that the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network is a step toward reconciling with the earth.”
The next speaker was Larry McDermott, executive director of Plenty Canada. Larry expressed how the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network has emerged at a crucial time when the world is dealing with biodiversity loss, soil loss, and the impacts of climate change.
Bradley May, adjunct professor with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University, announced the incorporation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network and named its founding board members, of which he is included.
Next to address the full house was Lynn Wells, interim president and vice-chancellor provost and vice-president academic at Brock University, who expressed the importance of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network to Brock University and its appropriate emergence during this era of Truth and Reconciliation. She stated that Environment and Climate Change Canada supporting an Indigenous organization to conduct this universal work was of benefit to all peoples.
The next presenter, Sean Kennedy, president of Niagara College Canada, was thankful for the opportunity to attend the event, and discussed the significance of this new initiative to the College, including expressing its importance to protecting the natural world.
Walter Sendzik, mayor of St. Catherines, was also present. He spoke about the importance of the partnership, especially as the day was also the launch of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages. Mayor Sendzik expressed his excitement for the new initiative and offered support.
The last speaker for the afternoon was, again, Alyssa M. General. All eyes in the room turned to her as she translated the words she had spoken in Kanien'kéha, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, at the beginning of the gathering. Alyssa thanked everyone gathered in the room, then thanked the birds, the trees, the grasses, the flowers, the sun, the air, and so on. She emphasized the importance of Indigenous languages in how they affirmed human connections to all living things. She spoke of language providing emotional connections to the environment, and it being essential for preserving human relations with nature. General concluded that people needed to remember to learn to love nature again, to love the earth’s ecosystems that provide for the people like a mother provides for their children. She said that the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network is a step toward reconciling with the earth.
Tim Johnson concluded the event by thanking everyone for attending and encouraged audience members to stick around, ask questions, and mingle. The day ended with the room buzzing with excitement, with people talking and happily connecting to discuss the outcome of the day's proceedings.
From the southern Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network gathering held at The Brown Homestead in St. Catharines, the next session was held in the north, at Cape Croker Park in Neyaashiinigmiing, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, near Wiarton, Ontario on May 12th. Present were environmental staff from the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and other environmental and conservation representatives who were helping to preserve biodiversity in the northern region. The weather was again beautiful, another warm and sunny spring day, perfect for the occasion. Emily Martin, resources and infrastructure manager from the Environment Office of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, opened the session and then introduced Tim to begin the program.
Tim first introduced Victoria Serda, a board member of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network. Victoria discussed the history surrounding the formation of the network. The next speaker was Larry McDermott, talking about networking within the context of the Biosphere to protect and preserve the natural environment for the next seven generations. Next to speak was, Deb Pella Keen, executive director for Maple Leaves Forever, volunteer advisor to Plenty Canada, and former director of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Deb expressed her views on networking with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to help raise awareness that the biosphere is at risk, and sharing knowledge that is accessible to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. She talked about how important it was that the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network allowed grassroots people within communities to take back responsibility to ensure the biosphere's survival; a stepping away from government-led protocols whose priorities were not focused entirely on the Niagara Biosphere. In the new configuration, the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network has a focussed prioritization for conserving the biosphere.
The floor was then opened to questions about the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network. After questions were answered, the group went on a small hike along Cape Croker Park’s natural rocky shoreline, where everyone bonded, communicated and spoke with excitement about the network. Guests looked forward to continuing their communications and strengthening relations.
The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network continues to make plans to meet communities and organizations interested in collaborating with the network. The organization has also launched a website that can be visited at www.nebnetwork.org.
To read more about the April 22nd launch event, click on the link for NiagaraThisWeek.com to read Paul Forsyth’s cover article “New grassroots Network Unveiled for Niagara Escarpment Biosphere,” which was also published in the St. Catharines Standard and The Toronto Star: https://bit.ly/3LGdxrl.
— Amanda Harwood