The Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership (CRP), of which Plenty Canada is a key partner, is an Indigenous-led network that brings together a diverse range of partners to advance Indigenous-led conservation and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) across Turtle Island. The partnership aims to transform the conservation sector by centring Indigenous leadership, laws, rights, responsibilities, and knowledge in the spirit of reconciliation and decolonisation.
We are honoured to have Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall sit on the partnership’s Elder’s Lodge, helping to ensure that our collaborative work is ethical, authentic, equitable and sacred. He is a beloved leader and knowledge-keeper who has championed the concept of Etuaptmumk or ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’, a concept that has greatly influenced many sectors including health and conservation, and that serves as a guiding principle for our collective work.
Two-Eyed Seeing, according to Elder Albert, refers to:
“Learning 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 – and learning to use both of these eyes together for the benefit of all.”
His teachings have deeply influenced how we aim to conduct research and how we seek to communicate the work being done throughout the partnership. Many of our research projects start with Indigenous theory and observation, include opportunities for inter-generational knowledge sharing, and incorporate western science methods such as plant identification, community mapping exercises (transect walks), and key informant interviews. We also seek to practice oral and written storytelling as a key means to share information and resources about Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas to amplify Indigenous-led conservation.
Elder Albert reminds us that learning to see with both eyes comes with the responsibility to act on what we come to understand. With that guidance, we are hosting several sharing circles, facilitating relationship-building, and gathering more knowledge and insights to inform change in the conservation sector. We have made a commitment to influence conservation policy and practice within Crown government agencies and organisations as well as environmental organisations.
We wished to honour and share our gratitude to Elder Albert for his guidance, strong spirit, and significant contributions to the Indigenous-led conservation movement as well as the collaborative work of the Conservation Through Reconciliation Partnership. So, on October 1, 2021, members of the Elder’s Lodge and Leadership Circle, including Elder Marilyn Capreol, Elder Larry McDermott (executive director of Plenty Canada), Holy Walking Woman Paulette Fox, Lisa Young, and myself traveled to Elder Albert’s territory on Unama’ki for a gathering; the first time we were able to gather was before the COVID pandemic.
Elder Stephen Augustine welcomed us into his home and territory. He led a ceremony in honour and celebration of Elder Albert where each member of the Elder’s Lodge shared teachings from their respective territories and life journeys. All members of the circle were invited to reflect and share their heartfelt appreciation for Elder Albert’s wisdom, guidance, and love.
We are forever grateful for Elder Albert’s friendship, leadership, and strength as he continues to guide our thinking and challenges us to take active steps towards healing and protecting Mother Earth for the benefit of all.
— Robin Roth
Principal Investigator and Leadership Circle Member
Conservation Through Reconciliation Partnership
Wii Baba Mose Maamiwi | We Walk the Path Together: How youth can unite Indigenous and Western cultures through Ethical Space
We at Plenty Canada are very excited to be delivering our newest youth program, Wii Baba Mose Maamiwi, which translates to We Walk the Path Together in Algonquin. Youth participants aged 14 to 25 are coming together over several months to participate in online webinars paired with discussions, where they hear from leading truth and reconciliation thought leaders and practice how they can work together respectfully across multiple cultures towards a just future. There will also be a hands-on workshop where participants will braid sweetgrass together.
This training program is inspired by the concepts of Ethical Space cultivated during recent efforts to meet Canada's international commitments to protect biodiversity (Pathway to Canada Target 1). Ethical Space is an engagement framework that examines the potential and contextual positioning of Indigenous peoples and Western society. It takes an approach that applies emerging standards of collaboration and relationship building to create a process for bridging Indigenous and Western knowledge and worldviews.
Guiding this approach has been Mi’kmaw Elder Dr. Albert Marshall, who developed the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk). This involves “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing, and to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.”
Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott was a key player in this process as a member of the Indigenous Circle of Experts. Listen to Larry discuss some of his perspectives on Ethical Space here: youtu.be/6u5sVvo7hF4.
Registration officially ended on October 31, 2021, enrolling a total of 95 participants from across Canada. Workshops have already begun and will extend through March 2022.
The program kicked-off at The Healing Place in Shanly, Ontario on October 14 where we marked the first anniversary of a cross-cultural project implemented within the Ethical Space framework taught through this program. A Remembering the Children Ceremony was held to gather, reflect, and grieve together in a safe space as we begin our journey towards healing. We also spent time planting culturally significant trees and plants, creating a children’s garden, and sharing stories to celebrate Indigenous cultures. The youth participants joined us both in-person and via an immersive live stream that included the opening ceremony, an interactive tour, and bonus interviews with some of the Healing Place project partners.
The webinar series officially launched on November 1, 2021 with a presentation on the history of wampum belts and treaties from renowned historian Rick Hill Sr. from the Tuscarora Nation of the Haudenosaunee at Grand River, followed by facilitated small-group discussions. The second webinar, held on December 6, was led by Reg Crowshoe, a prominent cultural and spiritual leader from Piikuni First Nation in Southern Alberta, and will cover a recent history of calls to change societal directions and include examinations of the Canadian constitution, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.
We are looking forward to gathering together in Ethical Space over the next few months to learn from other leading thinkers and change-makers including Chloe Dragon Smith, Larry McDermott, and Albert Marshall. The learning and relationship-building of the program has already been significant and we expect so much more to come throughout this collective learning journey.
For more information about the program, see https://www.plentycanada.com/path.html.
— Martina Albert, Emily Morris, Joanna Jack
It's nine o'clock on a cloudy Thursday morning and the children have queued up in a form of a train while holding each other's backs to have their breakfast. They are singing "Haka Matorokisi,” a popular South African song meaning Join the Trucks Together. "We make them sing this song because they love it and it gives them enthusiasm to eat," said Lillian Theko, one of their teachers.
Today they are having Corn Flakes and warm milk for breakfast, and one of the teachers is helping them to wash their hands while the other teacher is handing out the bowls of their breakfast and directing them on where to sit and eat. They have different menus for their breakfast and lunch.
This is Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre situated in White City village within the Acornhoek area. It was established in 2019 by Xitsundzuxo Kgopotso Nyango. The name Tsundzukani was inverted from her name Xitsundzuxo, meaning Remember. Xitsundzuxo is a 31-year-old phenomenal woman who has so much love for children. "I started this school because I love children with all my heart," she said. "Seeing them all gathered here at school completes my life.”
The school accommodates children from five years of age and have 40 children in total. It opens from six o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock in the evening since some of the children's parents are working. Her vision about the school is to implement a modern lifestyle through education. "People from this community has been very supportive and I'm truly grateful for that," she said.
With that number of children attending the school, it's not easy to accommodate all of them in one class since it's only a two-roomed facility with a kitchen located at the far end of the yard. The other room or class is used as an office and a bedroom for the little infants. "There are so many things that we need here at the school," explained Xitsundzuxo.
"Water is one of the most needed," she continued. "We are fortunate enough to have met Mwana, who helped us to get the water tank and pipes," she added while walking towards the water tank that is installed at the corner of the premises. Mwana Bermudes is the representative of Plenty Canada, which is an organization that has helped other South Africans with water tanks and funds to underprivileged South Africans to further their studies.
Now they are doing it again for the Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre. They have donated the water tank, pipes that connect to the tank and from the tank to the flushing toilets. They also donated the bricks used to build two pit toilets, the toilet seats, basins, pipe drains, sewerage, and paint. All the maintenance costs were paid by Plenty Canada.
"We are truly grateful to Plenty Canada,” said Xitsundzuxo. “Now that we have something to store water when it rains, we will never run out of water because this tank is big enough to last us for a while," she said. She went on to express her gratitude to all the people who contributed to and participated in this project.
"I'm giving thanks to the builders, the plumber, the painter, and most of all, I'd love to thank my parents for encouraging me to follow my dreams, the teachers for giving all their best to the school. and my best friend Musa Makhubele for being there throughout the process of establishing this school," she concluded.
There are still other things that are needed to meet the needs of the growing school, such as additional structures that can house at least three classes, a dining hall where they can also hold their annual graduation ceremonies, a playground, sleeping room for the babies, beds, toys, food, fruits and vegetables. The list is endless, but they would appreciate any other donations to help them grow tremendously.
Projects like this are in line with Plenty Canada’s long-standing efforts in South Africa and southern Africa to improve the lives of rural and Indigenous peoples. Mwana Bermudes has been a longtime project manager in the region whose work has left a legacy of compassion combined with practical results.
Here is a list of the other wonderful people and partners who helped make the Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre possible.
Xitsundzuxo Kgopotso Nyango
She is the second born daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Nyango from Timbavati village around Acornhoek. She was born in 1990 and has three sisters. Her father is a retired teacher whilst her mother is a retired health worker (nurse). She started her pre-primary school level at Lumukisa private school and mid-primary school at Mugidi Primary school. She continued her high school level at Magwagwaza High School and went on to further her studies at Mopani South East TVET College in 2014 where she successfully completed her National Diploma in Public Management.
In addition, she has other qualifications such as a Diploma in Office Computing, Certificate in HIV/AIDS Counselling, SACE Certificate and certification as a Motivational Speaker. As a sophisticated woman, she worked in several places before she could open Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre. She worked at Khapama as a waitress, worked at Shoprite as a Till Packer, and also volunteered at South African Police Services as a data capturer.
In 2009, she got married to Mr. Chiloane who was a police officer. He passed away in 2018 and left her to be a widow at an early age. The passing of her husband left her shattered, but not blind-minded. In 2019, she stood up firm and established Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre through the support of her family, friends and Hungani Pre-school, which was already operating day care centres.
Her wish is to have a bigger premises, salaries to pay the volunteering teachers, and enough food, fruits and vegetables to feed the kids. She goes around to Bushbuckridge Supermarkets and asks for donations. Nonetheless, she is excited that the day care centre is operating very well.
Lillian is a 34-year-old teacher at Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre and she's from Casteel. She wanted to be a police officer when she was still a student, but life happened. She says she enjoys working at the day care centre and the founder (Xitsundzuxo Nyango) is a people's person. Her dedication to the day care centre sometimes causes her to sleep there since she stays far from the school.
Mercy is a 31-year-old mother of three and also a teacher at Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre. She said she saw her neighbors (as they all reside in White City) bringing their children to the school and she followed them. Little did she know she would become one of the teachers because the school had a shortage of volunteer teachers. She studied financial management at Mapulaneng TVET College, but could not finish her studies due to an ancestral calling that she was feeling. She then left and went to be trained to become a sangoma (traditional healer). After six months of training, she finally graduated from her ancestral calling and went back to her teaching duty at the school. She also wishes to complete her studies in financial management.
This 25-year-old teacher at Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre feels grateful that she's volunteering because it's hard to get employment these days. Rhandzu is a resident of White City village who studied her primary school level education at N'wa-Matsingela Primary school and did her secondary school level at Munghena High School. She went on to further her studies at Barberton TVET College located in Nelspruit, where she successfully completed her National Diploma in Public Management. She understands that working with children is very hard and knows the perfect way of handling them, which is through patience and perseverance. Her strong belief is that one day they'll also have monthly salaries since they are receiving none at the moment.
She is a 30-year-old mother of three who volunteers as a cleaner and a cooker. She said she saw Xitsundzuxo cleaning the school yard and she decided to help her.
These are childhood friends who went to Andova Primary school together and Moses Mnisi High School together, although in different grades. Everything they did and everywhere they went, they were together. Given Ngomane is a 32-year-old father of one and a builder. His co-worker is Surprise Mona, a 31-year-old father of three. Given wanted to be a lawyer and Surprise wanted to be a police officer. But those dreams didn't come true because of poverty. They were excited to be part of the Plenty Canada project at Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre because it proves to them that they are doing important work. They are also appreciated by Xitsundzuxo Nyango.
For Troy Sibuyi, plumbing is his passion. He is so in love with it and he does it perfectly and with pride. A 41-year-old married father of three, he is not just a plumber, but an experienced professional plumber. He studied plumbing at Indlela Training Centre in Benoni in Gauteng. He explained how much he loves his job and the reason he chose it is because he loves travelling.
He believes that being an entrepreneur runs in his family blood since his father was also an entrepreneur. He plans to pass on his plumbing skills to his son so that when he grows up, he'll know the channels of making money rather than having to look for employment.
Even though his schedule was tight, Troy managed to be part of the Plenty Canada project. He installed all the pipes to the water tank and the toilet pipe drains, which made him excited because he was doing it for the betterment of Tsundzukani Bright Eye's Day Care Centre.
— Antoinette Mhlanga is a 33-year-old Shangaan writer and mother of three boys living in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. She earned a three-year Human Resources Diploma from Ehlanzeni TVET College in Acornhoek.
On October 14th The Healing Place Working Group Partners and Community Members gathered together at The Healing Place, Tsi Tehshakotitsénhtha - Endaji mino-pimaadizi, in Shanly, Ontario to create a children’s garden, and share stories to celebrate First Nations cultures.
The Healing Place is a gathering space created with Indigenous intention at the intersection of connections to land, ecological restoration, as well as truth and reconciliation. In light of the discoveries of unmarked graves on residential school properties across Canada, the working group decided to dedicate a day and a space to remembering the children by planting a memorial and healing garden. The garden was designed in the shape of a butterfly and planted with pollinator species to attract butterflies and fireflies which are associated with childhood and transformation. The idea was to create a space to help transform grief into healing by both honouring our children who were taken and celebrating our children now.
The plants chosen for the garden are versatile species that are not only pollinator species but also traditional foods, medicines, and culturally significant plants. For example, wild strawberries, which are considered a health and heart medicine, were planted along the garden paths where their sweet summer berries are easily accessible by little hands. Sun chokes that grow up to eight feet tall provide beautiful yellow flowers and edible nutritious tubers. Sweet grass, one of the four sacred medicines used by Indigenous peoples, is planted throughout the garden so it can easily be harvested and dried. The plants also provide a wide variety of textures and smells in addition to their colours, making the space more engaging for young children and more enjoyable for those with different abilities.
The Healing Place and the children’s garden are open to the public and are located at 8040 Shanly Road (County Road 22), in Shanly, Ontario. For more information about The Healing Place please visit https://www.plentycanada.com/healing-place.html.
— Sarah Craig
Plenty Canada has made numerous environmentally sustainable renovations and additions to its main office over the past year, many of which have been documented through this newsletter. However, it should be acknowledged that the organization has maintained a longstanding philosophy that has guided its commitment to sustainability, which has been expanded upon by new activities. The organization is therefore pleased to announce that it has met its goal of achieving carbon negative status. Moreover, the recent addition of a second solar panel array will further expand its electricity generation capacity in preparation for the activation of a second office building as part of the emerging Plenty Canada CampUs.
Plenty Canada’s original set of solar panels, in operation for the past ten years, are part of Ontario's MicroFIT Program. The program enabled users to develop small renewable energy systems to sell the power they generate through wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources, to the grid. The Ontario Power Authority had developed a Feed-In Tariff (FIT) Program to “encourage and promote greater use of renewable energy sources.” It allowed individuals and organizations to participate in “micro” renewable energy projects of 10kW or less.
“The organization is therefore pleased to announce that it has met its goal of achieving carbon negative status.”
Participation in the MicroFIT Program has enabled Plenty Canada to earn income from its roof mounted solar panels while also advancing the organization’s green energy goals. Though access to the program was quickly shut down by the Ford administration, the province continues to honour contracts that were previously authorized. Plenty Canada is halfway through its 20-year contract. Though independent actions like this may seem a small contribution, in the grand scheme of things every little step helps when it comes to bringing Canada closer to its eventual goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
For Plenty Canada's part, the organization has achieved its goal of becoming carbon negative. By comparing its MicroFIT statements citing the energy generated to its electricity bills over the past year, it’s easy to see that the kilowatts of green energy created by Plenty Canada’s existing solar apparatus has far outpaced its energy consumption. However, these statistics do not fully take into account the additional solar panels the organization has recently installed.
In November, Plenty Canada activated a new set of ground-mounted solar panels that were installed on the north side of the main office. While these panels are not part of the MicroFIT Program, they directly supply the office with clean renewable electricity, and surplus electricity produced is fed into the grid. This is called net metering, which is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy producers for the electricity they contribute.
With the addition of 72 more solar panels on Plenty Canada’s property the goal is to inspire other organizations and individuals to do their part to mitigate climate change. Through this and upcoming enhancements such as electric car chargers and a new battery pack system to store electricity produced by its solar panels, Plenty Canada demonstrates to other not-for-profits, businesses, and even individuals, that achieving carbon neutrality or even negative carbon status is possible.
While the organization is proud of its achievement, as a national and international advocate for environmental issues it considers these sorts of “outreach” opportunities part of its core responsibility. By the time that spring rolls around, when there will ideally be more activities taking place at the Plenty Canada office, the organization will be able to not only declare that it is carbon negative, but that it represents a case study for a new model of green energy sustainability worthy of being emulated by its community, peers, and partners.
— Breton Campbell
Plenty Canada is launching its first Ethical Space youth training program! We are welcoming youth aged 14-25 to hear from leading thinkers and practice how we can work together respectfully across multiple cultures towards a just future.
Participants you will attend five online webinars followed by discussions as well as an online workshop with a hands-on component where they will braid sweetgrass together! The cost of participation, including a special mailed package with materials for the sweetgrass workshop, is covered for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth across Canada!
A certificate will be available to those who complete the program, and 5 volunteer hours can be approved for participation in the program discussions.
September 30th, 2021
Today, on Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the Partners of The Healing Place | Tsi Tehshakotitsiéntha’ | Endaji mino-pimaadizin | Lieu de guérison are grieving past, and ongoing injustices against the First Peoples of Turtle Island and reflecting on how we can collectively make our journey towards healing.
The Healing Place — created in partnership between Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, Mohawks of Akwesasne, Algonquins of Shabot Obaadjiwan, Plenty Canada, South Nation Conservation, Ontario Power Generation, and Forests Ontario — is both a tree planting site on the traditional territories of the Algonquin and Mohawk Nations and a collaborative project centered around creating and maintaining a space of healing to help restore land, language, and relationships.
Rooted in values of ethical space and governance, The Healing Place project demonstrates how community members from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds can come together and participate in the healing process of reconciliation, so that we may all learn how to engage in an equitable and just future together.
To explore more about the background, governance, partnerships, and information about The Healing Place, you can read the article by clicking here.
When I think back upon our initial work with Mayan communities in 1976 through the evolution of our mission, that increasingly emphasised engagement with Indigenous peoples within Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean and Canada, I’m tremendously proud of our now historic and trend-setting accomplishments. It seems as though the world is finally catching up, or at least beginning to wake up.
In the early 90s, opposition to this transition was significant. From the ranks of the Plenty Canada board through the halls and offices of the Canadian International Development Agency, their existed virulent resistance. Keep in mind that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would not be adopted by the General Assembly until 2007. And Canada, remarkably, was one of only four countries that voted against its acceptance, the others being Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. It wasn’t until 2016, nine years later, that the Declaration was finally endorsed by the Government of Canada. Further, the country is still hashing out a framework for how to incorporate UNDRIP into Canadian law.
While Plenty Canada has been intellectually engaged in Indigenous policy matters and been working directly with Indigenous partners around the world on tangible and useful projects for their communities for decades, it seems that only recently have the true consequences of the historic injustices toward Indigenous peoples been revealed. Of course, we know different and prefer not to think it would take the discovery of mass graves of Indigenous children buried at the sites of former residential schools to create the seismic awakening so fully needed within Canada.
Which is why I’m so thankful to you, our donors and partners, for the support you’ve provided Plenty Canada over the course of our journey, one that has advocated for and supported Indigenous peoples within Canada and internationally. We know the Indigenous world as a place of great humanity, knowledge, and cultural wisdom, of philosophies and teachings that if integrated broadly into society could have mitigated against rapacious greed and the accelerating destruction of our environment and atmosphere. The disregard of Indigenous knowledge systems has come at a terrible cost, one measured by loss of biodiversity and habitable lands that have otherwise sustained life for millennia.
But if we haven’t listened before, it’s certainly time to listen now. In this issue of contact, we report on Plenty Canada projects that continue to express our core values. For example, our recently approved project funded by the Greenbelt Foundation, Wisdom from Knowledge: Documenting and Sharing the Indigenous Biocultural Richness of the Greenbelt, seeks to bridge Indigenous traditional knowledge systems with Western science. It is being paired with another of our innovative projects, The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map, to gather Indigenous knowledge and scientific data and resources to establish a repository of information that will enhance awareness of the importance of preserving natural world ecosystems and green spaces to safeguard Indigenous flora. These and other stories, I hope, continue to reveal our honourable principles and intentions.
I thank the members of our intelligent and dedicated staff who’ve contributed to this edition of our electronic newsletter and hope you enjoy reading it!
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.
With the support of a major grant from the Greenbelt Foundation, Plenty Canada is partnering with the University of Guelph to launch a biocultural knowledge and mapping project to begin restoring Indigenous knowledge, visibility, and character to the Greenbelt as an important Indigenous cultural landscape within Ontario.
Entitled Wisdom from Knowledge (Nbwaakaawining binjibaamgad Gkendmaawziwin): Documenting and Sharing the Indigenous Biocultural Richness of the Greenbelt, the project will result in three exciting deliverables in year one. These include the development of a taxonomic list of culturally significant Indigenous plants in collaboration with Indigenous plant knowledge holders; research and assembly of content for an ethnobotanical atlas or field guide that includes both Western science and Indigenous knowledge such as morphology, life-history, conservation status, and Indigenous uses; and the building out of Plenty Canada’s technology platform, The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map, to embrace the entire Greenbelt region, including engineering and custom programming of the web platform’s superstructure and content management system to house knowledge content and photo and video documentation.
“We’re honoured and delighted to have received this grant award,” said Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott. “We believe that bridging Indigenous traditional knowledge systems with Western science is essential to practicing effective environmental stewardship. In recent years, Indigenous-led frameworks that braid together both Western science and Indigenous knowledge systems have been used to guide conservation activities, such as the establishment of Indigenous Protected Areas, the stewardship of cultural keystone species (e.g., black ash, moose), and in cross cultural educational programming with youth.”
As an institution of higher learning Guelph University has purposefully engaged with Plenty Canada to identify and launch programs that broaden the knowledge and perspectives its conservation students learn and apply to their profession. Robin Roth, professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Geomatics, and the university’s collaborator on the project, envisions significant outcomes that will benefit those communities and organizations affiliated with the Greenbelt.
“Along with Dr. Faisal Moola, we are thrilled to be collaborating with Plenty Canada on this project and to assist in making more visible the Indigenous biocultural values present throughout the Greenbelt,” said Professor Roth. “The map and the atlas will make for excellent teaching tools and will provide greater access to the public so that we can all better understand the historic and contemporary importance of the Greenbelt for Indigenous peoples.”
The awarded project builds upon the success of a previous pilot project that Plenty Canada launched in 2017 in partnership with the Niagara Escarpment Commission and Canadian Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (CCUNESCO). Its purpose was to document, celebrate, and safeguard important Indigenous heritage resources on and along the Niagara Escarpment. The first phase of that project (also highlighted in this edition of the contact newsletter) included the development of an interactive prototype digital map of the Niagara Escarpment named The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map.
As a logical complement and extension of this work Plenty Canada is now planning to expand its research and mapping project to the entire Greenbelt region in an effort to gather Indigenous knowledge and scientific data and resources to establish a repository of information that will aid public education and serve as the foundation for enhancing awareness of the importance of preserving natural world ecosystems and green spaces to safeguard Indigenous flora.
By combining Western science and Indigenous Knowledge systems in the service of educational and member organisations of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, as well as the general public, these biocultural resources will enhance and strengthen the goal of ensuring the ‘Greenbelt remains permanent, protected, and prosperous.’
The mapping component of the project will be led by Plenty Canada Senior Advisor Tim Johnson. “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,” said Johnson. “Plenty Canada has employed this approach within its Indigenous Cultural Map through the development of destinations including historic sites, public spaces, and natural world features that constitute prominent learning locations. This pedagogy prioritises engagement and authenticity in ways that make learning real and memorable.”
Designed as a two-year project that will include numerous Indigenous knowledge holders and science advisors from Guelph University and elsewhere, it will result in the implementation of a pedagogical strategy that utilizes Indigenous biocultural mapping content to appropriately process and share Indigenous histories, knowledge, and stories of the Greenbelt, including the use and application of the field guide that will include ethnobotanical species for field identification. Within the context of place-based learning as described, both the field guide and mapping platform will provide ready access to the information collected by the project.
From an Indigenous perspective and educational standpoint, a significant aspect of this project seeks to stimulate and nurture empathic traditions to foster deeper relations and connections between Ontario’s citizenry and nature.
Humans begin life in an empathic state given their dependence upon others and that which nature provides, but over time learn the behaviours of self-interest as they grow to adopt the philosophies, rules, and values promoted within modern culture. However, other cultures, particularly the cultures of Indigenous peoples, remain rich with empathic traditions that present far different foundations for human consciousness. This educational addition to the Greenbelt will play a role in helping to activate both the knowledge and empathy required to ensure respectfulness and gratitude for the living earth, shaping human intention and guiding responsible human behaviour.
— Staff report
The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map emerged from a 2017 outreach project conducted by Plenty Canada in partnership with the Niagara Escarpment Commission that sought to increase involvement by Indigenous peoples in the co-management of the UNESCO designated Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve. Following consultations held in Six Nations of the Grand River and Tobermory, Indigenous participants advised that the first step toward restoring trust and building relations should include the development of an Indigenous cultural map to return Indigenous knowledge and stories back upon the lands of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere. Note that the term “Reserve” has since been removed from its name.
Under the guidance of Artistic Director Tim Johnson with Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott and Senior Advisor Deb Pella Keen, in association with the Canadian Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map was created. Resourced by grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Aboriginal Languages Initiative of Canadian Heritage emerged a revolutionary multimedia online resource that provides visitors with substantive information and knowledge, beautiful photography, and captivating videos that reveal important Indigenous historic, cultural, and ecosystem locations. From Niagara Falls to the western region of Manitoulin Island, Indigenous occupation is prevalent throughout the Niagara Escarpment within Canada. As the map continues to progress, it will eventually provide information resources that document some 13,000 years of Indigenous inhabitation.
Though the site is currently in prototype phase, it evolves as Plenty Canada continues to partner with Indigenous advisors and a growing network of professional allies to document, celebrate, and safeguard important Indigenous heritage resources. For example, in partnership with Landscape of Nations 360° the map houses the Indigenous Niagara Living Museum Tour, a virtual tour where visitors to the site get to explore key events and locations involving Indigenous history and culture in the Niagara Region. These include virtual visits to the newly developed memorials Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations and Native Allies Commemorative Memorial and the First Nations Peace Monument, that recognize and honour Indigenous peoples’ contributions prior to and during the War of 1812.
A new function added to the map features destinations that have been translated into Indigenous languages, including Anishinaabemowin (Anishinabek), Kanien’kéha (Mohawk), and Michif (Métis). This function is available in the site’s table of contents or within each active destination’s menu bar by simply selecting one of the language tabs. Also, another exciting platform is in the process of being developed in partnership with Guelph University, with support from the Greenbelt Foundation, to create an in-depth biocultural map of Indigenous plants across the entire Greenbelt region. Additional Indigenous plant identification along the Laura Secord Legacy Trail is currently underway with the support and participation of Brock University.
Visitors to The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map will be able to dive deeply into Indigenous knowledge and experience ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ through an easy, functional, and organized mapping system. Upon entering the site, visitors can select the menu at the top right corner and choose an option for specific pins to appear under the Browse Destinations header, or simply browse all of the pin locations by selecting the Browse Destinations tab. Upon selecting a pin location, visitors will be able to navigate easily through the destination’s menu. To start, click on a pin and select More Info. A sidebar will appear to the left that consists of brief information about the location. For even more information, select Open Menu at the top left of the sidebar. A menu will appear that displays Detailed Description, which contains a thorough description about the pin location, an Image Gallery for professional photos of the location, a Video Gallery, Quotes & Interviews, and lastly, Additional Resources.
Even though it’s already become a fascinating tool for learning more funding is needed in order to advance the prototype Indigenous Cultural Map into a fully formed system that includes the development of its own pedagogy and Indigenous curriculum. However, for system management the platform needs a ‘style guide’ to ensure consistency as volumes of new content are developed and added into the site. More funding is needed to produce the style guide, for adding more translated language destinations, and to finance Indigenous scholars and artists to complete the contents for current pin locations currently serving as place holders in the cultural map. Future ideas are also in development, like adding Indigenous archaeological sites to reveal the breadth of Indigenous occupancy and inhabitation along the Niagara Escarpment. However, the opportunities for building a useful, creative, and beautiful Indigenous Cultural Map are endless.
Visit the prototype map at http://www.thegreatniagaraescarpment.ca/. Updates to the map are done on an ongoing basis, so continue to check it out to search for new content and features.
— Amanda Harwood