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