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