Today’s post comes from Jess Matthews, a Natural Heritage Education Specialist at Rondeau Provincial Park.
About a year ago, we looked at a well-loved, yet aging display in the Rondeau Visitor Centre.
Hundreds of visitors learned from it over the years, but it was becoming faded and worn — it was time for a change.
We considered lots of options, and by far the best one was to incorporate Indigenous cultures through art, nature, and the resilience of traditional teachings.
Over the course of a year, we teamed up with Aamjiwnaang First Nations and Eel?naapèewii Lahkèewiit to create an inclusive, accessible experience of culture and tradition that has something for everyone.
Planting a seed
The first completed installation came from Aamjiwnaang nurseries in collaboration with Return the Landscape. What was once a tangle of overgrown vines and weeds was transformed into a garden of native plants, complete with rain gardens.
The entire garden was designed to reflect the major ecosystems of Rondeau: Carolinian forest, oak savanna, and freshwater dunes.
Pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds frequent the garden, along with a variety of wildlife that all take advantage of the natural habitats.
The garden can be viewed from an accessible deck with outdoor seating or from inside where comfortable armchairs may lengthen your stay.
The representatives from Eel?naapèewii Lahkèewiit felt a good representation of their current culture is showing the resilience of traditional skills and teachings that connect them to the land.
Rondeau staff joined community members on their land to learn the traditional methods of building wigwams: offering tobacco to the trees, taking care to select the correct species of trees for each section, the physical strength required for removing bark and bending saplings into place.
The staff had a full day of learning, and left with an understanding of the importance of these structures today as symbols of the past, and tools for strengthening community today.
A portion of a wigwam was then built in the Visitor Centre to acknowledge the importance of these structures. Inside the wigwam, you may rest a while on one of the traditionally built benches.
Painting a picture
The final installation came on Family Day Weekend, when Aamjiwnaang artist John William’s painting was completed and mounted on the Visitor Centre wall.
The painting depicts a mother bear with her cub, strong symbols in Ojibway culture. Within the bears are images relating to the seasons, cultural figures, and significant plants all within the colours of the medicine wheel.
While travelling this journey with Aamjiwnaang and Eel?naapèewii Lahkèewiit, we have attended celebrations including pow wows, Disribution Day, and Heritage Days.
We’ve met community members from all over, many of whom told stories and shared their language with us. These moments were captured to be included on touchscreen displays in the Visitor Centre for others to learn as we have.
The display — which comprises almost half of the Rondeau Visitor Centre and was designed with room to grow — has been called “Gathering,” as a tribute to the efforts of all the park staff and community members that made this project possible.
The Friends of Rondeau helped in a huge way too, providing funding for multiple parts of the display.
We are so pleased that journey is reaching this point of sharing in Rondeau’s 125th year as a provincial park and in the International Year of Indigenous Languages.