Working Together: Our Stories
Best Practices and Lessons Learned in Indigenous Engagement
Message from Elder Stewart King, Wasauksing First Nation and member of Parks Canada’s Aboriginal Consultative Committee
Stewart King (Aka Zhengos, Megizi odoodem), Wasauksing First Nation , Member of Parks Canada’s Aboriginal Consultative Committee, Parry Sound, Ontario© Parks Canada / Kaitlin King
Travelling along a newly constructed stretch of highway, fresh graffiti obstructs, desecrates and defaces miles of rock cuts blasted into ancient Laurentian shields. The clear, green waters of the Georgian Bay, once considered safe for drinking, bears a warning today against doing so. In spite of this, it is being pumped into massive intake systems for use by industry and an ever-increasing population. A genuine concern for all the waters and genuine care for remaining land and natural resources are needed desperately in North America today.
Turtle Island as it is known by the original inhabitants of this land is considered Sacred and remains a sanctuary and a place of affinity for all natural people. Our Creation story tells of our connection to this land, to the plant life and to all living things. Our original instructions tell us that we must take care of all things placed here for us and that they would provide for us during our lifetime. Our people were given a very specific language to communicate with all living things both physically and spiritually.
The natural boundaries of Turtle Island were carefully chosen and planned by Creator as is evidenced once you become aware of the many different Indigenous peoples and cultures around you. Their connection of being one with the land remains unchanged in over a millennium for there is no other place that they would rather choose to live. Their hunting and fishing skills are an integral part of who they are; the medicine plants mastered over time immemorial has served in place of medical doctors and hospitals. The understanding, wisdom and teachings of the Elders have carried them through the ages and through many difficult times. The countless rivers, streams and lakes have served them well for many purposes for all time.
The Indigenous perspective of the land may be defined by seven distinct regions incorporating the different linguistic stocks of our people: the cold icy regions, the high places, the coastal salt water regions, the grassy plains, the living wetlands, the great lakes and forest regions and the hot desert places. The artificial lines and boundaries drawn on a many maps today have no place in our culture along with the names, labels and titles placed on Turtle Island and its original inhabitants.
Life in the cold icy regions has necessitated distinct changes in the diet and life skills of our northern brothers. We admire the natural beauty of the countless birdlife, the magnificent polar bear, the narwhal and beluga whales swimming in turquoise waters; clear, cold fresh waters free of organic debris flowing down on rocky shores. We admire the hunting skills of people in hot, desert regions without the use of guns; the planting of melons and citrus fruits for many, many generations where they are now being told that it is impossible. Springtime in early March captures the beauty and wonder of this land with the vast, wide open blue skies, warm desert sands, sunshine and the scent of cactus flowers wafting in light breezes.
To witness the dizzying heights of the snow covered mountain peaks, ice and rock glaciers developing agelessly, continually; longhorn sheep, bears and antelope grazing on grassy, sunlit and windswept hills. We admire the boating and fishing skills adopted by our people of the coastal salt waters; design of boats modified to excel in unpredictable and hazardous waters; knowledge of dangerous tides, sneaker waves, currents, undertows, ice conditions and underwater predators; those hunters that harvest buffalo and caribou with intimate knowledge in the layout of the land and are able to harvest and utilize all medicine plants. We wonder at the incredible, spectacular northern lights.
We have seen the green, algae covered swamps, wetlands inhabited by alligators, snakes, mosquitoes and we know, as great lakes people, that we could not survive there. The great lakes and forest regions give us the balance of four beauteous seasons; a time of harvest and a time of gathering along with a genuine sense of gratitude for all the blessings of the Creator. We have seen plains and ruts of wagon roads on this land so loved by our Métis brothers and sisters. Guns pits have been dug into the sand for use as fortifications. Machine guns of an early age have sprayed countless bullets that are embedded into the ancient logs of old buildings. It tells of a history in the earlier times of this land that must be heard.
If we are to consider ourselves as the true caretakers of this land, it is necessary that we live and understand our own culture, history, language and traditional values. The teaching of our Elders must be sought after and honoured. Those with the intimate knowledge and ways of our people and land must be honoured and woven into the very fabric of our lives. The hope, the vitality and the contemporary views of our youth are sought after and needed so that we can move forward in this joint effort.
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