A Positive Path Forward
Having a good working relationship with First Nation partners has always been important to us, but over the last few years we’ve really turned our focus towards learning more about and from our closest neighbours, the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.
Staff at LSRCA have already experienced the many benefits of with Georgina Island, including the value of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We’ve learned through first-hand accounts about the shift in the lake mussel population - quagga mussels replacing zebra mussels - and we’ve partnered on some recent projects including development of a subwatershed plan for Georgina Island, an aquatic planting program with Georgina Island students and a major creek restoration.
It’s been through this fruitful and evolving relationship that we’ve realized the true need to make our relationship a priority. In fact, so much so, we addressed it in our 2016–2020 Strategic Plan.
We recognize that as an organization, and most of us as individuals, are at the very beginning stages of understanding the history of First Nations in Canada and in the Lake Simcoe watershed. With that in mind, we undertook a cultural training program led by Cambium Indigenous Professional Services (formerly Cambium Aboriginal Inc.), a consulting company of First Nations facilitators, to improve our knowledge and create a deeper understanding about the first peoples of this land.
The program consisted of four full-day modules that began with dynamic storytelling about the history of First Nations in Canada using intricately beaded Wampum Belts, an interactive Blanket exercise, developed in 1996 by Indigenous elders and leaders, which explored the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, followed up with focused discussions on Truth and Reconciliation and the Duty to Consult. The open dialogue began to explore the emotional impacts as well as the practical application of who, when and how to begin formal consultation about how best to move forward.
As an organization, we need and want to understand what these government calls-to-action mean for us as we move forward. While LSRCA recognizes the necessity of mandated consultation, we are already interested in creating genuine, meaningful engagement and relationships not because we have to; because we want to.
In all, 60 LSRCA staff took part in the four training modules, walking away with a new historical perspective and empathy for those who endured the life-altering impacts of colonization, loss of their land, residential schools, and assimilation. The teachings brought about a desire to find the most positive path forward in our relationships - both personally and professionally, with our First Nation friends.
As we work to continue building trust, friendships and partnerships, we are rooted in the ideal of mutual respect.
After all, we share the same goal, to see a healthy Lake Simcoe and surrounding environment, not just now, but for many generations to come.