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COLUMN: Greenbelt scandal violates age-old protocols

'We find ourselves at the same uncomfortable place that we have always been because ... someone forgot once more, how to be a good neighbour,' laments columnist
jeff monague sacred fire
Elder Jeff Monague, shown here keeping a Sacred Fire burning, explains how the Greenbelt scandal violates age-old protocols.

Trees will naturally grow beside one another in a forest without their crowns ever touching. Through mutual agreement, these beings exist beside their neighbour, in peace.

In our local Anishinaabe dialect, trees are known as Mtigoog (Mih-tig-ohg). They are known to be sentient beings with vibrant spirits that provide food, shelter, medicine to all other species. They are known to communicate and feed one another through their roots. They give unconditional love to one another and all other beings (including humans) around them.

Everything in the natural world exists in harmony with each other in ways we humans don’t quite understand or we seem to have forgotten about.

There is a protocol that exists between all living things. 

Insects have territorial boundaries and a division of responsibility upon the earth. They help to ensure and maintain a stable ecosystem by being able to break down and digest plants and flesh, returning these to the soil where they will nourish future growth.

Even we humans, if we were to fall in the forest and if our bodies were not ever to be found, we too, would become a part of this repetitive ritual. These protocols are ancient and preclude human existence. These are the laws of nature. The natural laws of our earthly existence.

This knowing is understood by the Anishinaabeg, and it is contained in our language and traditional teachings. We have lived on the land for centuries, learning of these protocols through observation. We then brought these same protocols into our own way of being and we made pacts with other nations, including Europeans, on how we would co-exist on the land.

Just like the trees, our neighbour’s crown(s) were never to touch us. We were to remain free sentient beings. Just as the creator had wished for us to be.

This way of knowing, this way of being at one with the natural laws of nature, was transposed into the art of treaty making and relationship building between Indigenous nations here in Ontario thousands of years before European law and custom covered the land like a giant wave, washing it away from our memory.

But for a handful of disputes, Indigenous nations often inhabited land within one another’s territory through mutual agreements. The extent of those relationships, the legal documentation, was depicted on wampum belts and the stories were woven through time so that all were understanding of the pacts made. 

The British Crown, and by extension, Canada, and Ontario, also have wampums (treaties) with Indigenous nations that are older than Canada itself. These mutual agreements were built using the same natural laws of nature that the Anishinaabeg and other Indigenous nations were familiar with. 

But the wampums also became victim of this giant wave of erasure and fell victim to self-indulgent government(s) representing the British Crown who took a frenzied possession of land, water, and resources, without consulting or compensating First Nations.

In 2023, not much has changed. The Ontario government, still wanting more land for development, has secretly (it is alleged) sold off more of Ontario’s green spaces. 

The green spaces, also known as the Greenbelt, are lands situated in the traditional territory of the Williams Treaty First Nations — lands that Ontario and Canada issued apologies for because they had dispossessed the Williams Treaty First Nations of their right to harvest on these same lands. 

In 2017, Ontario agreed that through protocol, the Williams Treaty First Nations would be advised, and their consent would be sought prior to any activity or further encroachment upon their traditional territory. They signed an agreement (land claim settlement) stating the same, immediately after apologizing for their centuries of misdeeds.

But once again, less than a decade later, it seems that we find ourselves at the same uncomfortable place that we have always been. Because someone chose to ignore protocols. Someone forgot once more, how to be a good neighbour.

Like the trees, we (First Nations) still don’t like it when someone else’s crown touches us. It isn’t neighbourly. It isn’t a part of our ancient protocols.

Jeff Monague is a former Chief of the Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, former Treaty Research Director with the Anishnabek (Union of Ontario Indians), and veteran of the Canadian Forces. Monague, who taught the Ojibwe language with the Simcoe County District School Board and Georgian College, is currently the manager of Springwater Provincial Park. 



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