“What is Ontario Parks doing to support reconciliation?”
We’ve heard that question more and more often, whether asked in a park or via social media message, whether asked by an Indigenous Person or a non-Indigenous person, we genuinely welcome the question.
Ontario Parks is committed to a journey of meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We would like to share some of the concrete steps we are taking on that journey and we hope this post will invite our readers to join us in this day of respect and reflection.
First, it’s important to acknowledge truth
Despite the fact that many provincial parks and conservation reserves in Ontario are culturally important places for Indigenous peoples, understanding and recognizing that connection in the past, was not something that was always reflected or considered in the process of establishing provincial parks or conservation reserves.
Ontario Parks also recognizes that establishing and maintaining positive relationships with Indigenous peoples has not always been successfully undertaken.
In some cases, the contributions of Indigenous peoples, recognition of their history and cultures, as well as the connections and special relationships to these places that are provincial parks and conservation reserves, may be completely absent or may not have been fully shared.
Ontario Parks recognizes that these past practices were wrong and, over the last decade and going forward, we are working to better recognize the important relationship Indigenous people have with the natural environment while honoring Indigenous rights and traditions.
By acknowledging this truth, we can learn from the past and put our focus toward building more balanced relationships with Indigenous peoples.
A journey toward reconciliation
We want to learn from our history.
While we acknowledge that we are still only a short way along our path to reconciliation, we want to share some of the concrete ways we are working to improve.
Supporting Indigenous culture
We want to help celebrate and promote Indigenous languages and cultures that were nearly lost after generations of Indigenous children were sent to Indian Residential Schools.
A lot of that effort to help is happening through our education leaders in the Discovery Program. Our Discovery leaders seek to include and amplify Indigenous voices and perspectives in their programs and educational displays.
One example can be found at Rondeau Provincial Park where three local Indigenous communities are working with park staff to incorporate Indigenous voices into the park’s Visitor Centre, trails, and programs:
Many Indigenous community events take place at provincial parks, such as the annual French River Pow Wow earlier this month.
Closing gaps and removing barriers
An important part of reconciliation includes addressing the social and economic challenges now faced by Indigenous communities after centuries of colonization and discrimination.
Ontario Parks is committed to an inclusive workforce, and participates in several initiatives, such as the Indigenous Internship Program, which aims to offer Indigenous graduates equitable access and opportunity to employment.
Ontario Parks is also committed to respecting access for the exercise of Aboriginal and treaty rights, as recognized and affirmed under the Constitution Act, 1982. Constitutional rights to harvest for food, ceremonial or social purposes can be exercised within a provincial park or conservation reserve at any time, provided safety and conservation considerations are satisfied.
For Indigenous people wishing to enter a provincial park within their traditional territory to exercise their Aboriginal and treaty rights, day access is provided free of charge.
Reconciling relationships with Indigenous peoples
Working together on park management planning is an important way to work together to integrate Indigenous knowledge, values, and interests into parks. Ontario Parks recognizes how important Indigenous inclusion and consultation are for all provincial parks and conservation reserves.
Ontario Parks is proud of the collaborative work that is being done with Indigenous communities in our shared efforts towards stewardship of provincial parks and conservation reserves. We hope to continue to build upon our shared relationships while ensuring that lands are protected for future generations.
Listening and understanding that this is a journey
Lasting and meaningful reconciliation is an ongoing process and a shared responsibility for all of us.
While we are proud of the steps that have already been taken, we recognize that we are early in our journey and have considerable work yet to do in the service and spirit of truth and reconciliation.
We encourage everyone to take time to learn and reflect
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, there are many ways people can learn and get the information they need to foster greater understanding, both online and by participating in events and learning opportunities throughout the year.
Our staff will be taking time to listen, learn, and reflect today (and beyond today), and we invite all parks-lovers to join us.
If you’d like some suggestions on where to begin, try:
- reading more about Indian Residential Schools on Ontario’s “Learn the Legacy” resource page
- reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action
- researching the traditional territories near your home or favourite provincial parks / conservation reserves
Once you’ve taken some time to learn and reflect, consider how you can share with other people in your life. You might share this blog or one of these resources on social media, or you might sit down with a friend or family member to talk about truth and reconciliation together.