Having native wisdom on Ontario conservation authorities would be a good idea.

Progress via bringing back the provincial appointees and having aboriginal voices heard.

john becky danny
(l) Danny Beaton, Becky Big Canoe, Dr. John Bacher, Photo by Les Stewart

An original article from Dr. John Bacher: (pdf)

Review of Conservation Authorities Act Critical to Bringing Native Wisdom For Ecological Restoration.
From now up to October 19th there is a brief window of opportunity for the public to have a say in the governance of the key government entity that fosters ecological restoration-Conservation Authorities. Created under provincial legislation in 1946 and slowly adopted often over great resistance by municipal governments, conservation authorities have been the single biggest force in restoring forest cover in southern Ontario. Under their guidance this has soared from 9.7 to 25.2 per cent. This healing of the earth brought an end to marching deserts and flooding of cities sparked by deforestation.

It is not widely understood that the terrible crash in forest cover to 9.7 per cent in southern Ontario in 1943 on the eve of the proclamation of the Conservation Authorities Act, was a ruinous consequence of brutal Euro-Canadian displacement of native peoples. They had traditions of responsible care for natural that evolved over thousands of years. Ojibway author Leanne Simpson has observed that the mess was so great “it is difficult to envision the place that my ancestors called home.”

Simpson’s lament is found in her essay, “Liberated Peoples, Liberated Lands”, a published in a book “Buffalo Shout: Salmon Cry”. Its publication is intended as a step in reconciliation. She explains how the healthy ecosystems of our region two centuries ago were a product of, “The knowledge systems, the educational systems, the political systems of indigenous peoples were designed to promote life.” Through such respect, “An ancient old growth forest of White Pine stretched from Curve Lake down to the shore of Lake Ontario; the forest had virtually no understory but a bed of pine needles.”

Simpson notes that “Throughout Canada’s colonial history there has always been a small group of settlers that has refused to uphold the system, that have chosen not to follow the inherited mandate of their forefathers.” Such a dedicated exemplar of defending the traditions of our province’s native peoples was a close friend of mine, Brian Wiles-Heaps.

Wiles-Heap worked closely with the Iroquois Confederacy in important ecological actions such as their occupation of the Dunnville Weir of the Grand River in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The occupation was a protest against the flooding of Iroquois lands in the 19th century by the Grand River Navigation Company.

A bold ecologist, inspired by traditional Iroquois teachings such as the Great Law of Peace, Wiles-Heaps subsequently went on to another important task-protecting the world’s tallest trees, the California Redwoods, from corporate pillage. For understanding the problems which will hopefully be addressed by the current government’s review of the Conservation Authorities Act, it is important to understand how Wiles-Heap was able to progress in his efforts to restoration.

Wiles-Heaps got nowhere with the municipally appointed members of the Grand River Conservation Authority Board,. They continued to champion the abuses of the past and even supported schemes to canalize the river. However, Wiles-Heap through the provincially appointed members of the board, notably the Chairman, Archie MacRobbie, helped secure the Grand River Strategy for Management of a Heritage River. It was signed in 1994 by MacRobbie and the then Minister of Natural Resources, Bud Wildman.

After Wiles-Heaps left Ontario to save the Redwoods I inquired as to how progress was going in securing advice from the traditional Iroquois Confederacy government. I was shocked to discover that this all ceased in 1996 after the passage of the Omnibus Bill by the then Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris. After the bill passed the chair and the other four provincially appointed members of the conservation authority board were all expelled the native voice in its deliberations were silenced. Into limbo went of the efforts through the land claim, of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy to restore forest cover alongside streams to enhance fish habitat.

The silencing of the native voice was part of a broader disturbing pattern the capture of conservation authority boards by real estate interests associated with municipalities. This I found in Niagara, through my efforts, ultimately successful to protect the Ramsey Road Forest, a threatened wetland from developers. The wetland was upgraded from locally to provincially significant through the dedicated work of Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority staff. Their field work discovered the presence of previously undocumented Black Gum trees and breeding habitat for the endangered Blue-Spotted Salamander. The brave people who worked to protect the forest were subsequently fired through development pressure

Another disgraceful firing episode of conservation authority staff for defending forests and wetlands took place in 2013, 2014 in the Nottawsaga Valley Conservation Authority. Senior Planner for the authority, Patti Young, was fired after a May 29, 2013 letter to Springwater Township. The letter raised a number of questions about proposed urban expansions in the township. This was followed by the June 5, 2014 firing of the Chief Executive Officer of the authority, who had served for 22 years, Wayne Wilson.

Wilson’s firing was associated with the release of watershed report cards, one of which Wilson Creek, drew attention to problems arising from urban expansions recommended by the Midhurst Secondary Plan. The report card documented how 141 hectares of forest had been lost in this watershed through development. Such loss threatened the minimal cover “that is needed to support healthy wildlife habitat. It also documented the loss of 14 hectares of wetland, “mostly associated with development activity.” Through urbanization the report card found that stream health was “continuing to decline.”

Wiles-Heaps’ work to express the views of the traditional Iroquois Confederacy in government forums has been continued by the Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan. Beaton has become a strong voice for the restoration of provincial appointees on conservation authority boards, and securing native representation, especially for the traditional Iroquois Confederacy.

Beaton attended a public meeting on September 18th in Newmarket on the future of the Conservation Authorities Act. After this session, he gave an eloquent call for public participation in the consultations. He observed that, “So we have a coalition of earth based organizations with a common vision of the sacredness of Mother Earth, forests, plants, lakes, rivers and wetlands. Now it is up to use if we will now begin to heal and really fight for her safety, health and the gifts that she gives us humans. We as the humans have the honour and duty to be a voice for Creation, the animals, birds, fish and insects. So I ask your leaders concerned for Mother Earth to unite with the native people who have the experience and blood lines to work together now while there is still hope of restoring Mother Earth back to good health for our children. We need to work on opening our hearts and minds like good hearted people who belong to our Mother Earth, be spiritually creative, building and organizing ourselves to be strategic and loving.

To have input into the Conservation Authorities Act by October 19th send an email to mnrwaterpolicy@ontario.ca

John Bacher PhD is an environmental writer, researcher and consultant, JohnBacherPhD.ca. Danny Beaton is a Mohawk elder who protects Mother Earth, DannyBeaton.ca. Originally published on DemocracyWatchSimcoe.ca with photos by Les Stewart MBA, LesStewartConsulting.ca.

Originally posted on DemocracyWatchSimcoe.ca.


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