Today’s post comes from Jess Matthews, a Chief Park Naturalist at Rondeau Provincial Park.
A change was needed at the Rondeau Visitor Centre and we wanted it to be big.
We worked with three different local Indigenous communities over five years to generate something amazing.
Aamjiwnaang First Nations, Eelünaapèewii Lahkèewiit and the Caldwell First Nations have come together with Ontario Parks to create an inclusive, accessible experience of culture and tradition that has something for everyone – right here at Rondeau!
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 native plant plot, complete with rain gardens. It 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 take advantage of the natural habitats.
Starting with a garden was one of the most obvious choices for all parties.
The garden not only represents our major ecosystems, it represents a connection to the land — a concept shared by everyone involved in the project.
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 the Eelünaapèewii Lahkèewiit felt a good representation of their current culture would to show 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; from offerings of tobacco to the trees, the care taken to select the correct species of trees for each part, and 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 as symbols of the past, and tools for strengthening community today.
A portion of a small wigwam was then built in the Visitor Centre to acknowledge the importance of these structures and represent the resilience of traditional knowledge.
Inside the wigwam, you may rest a while on one of the traditionally built benches and listen to stories told by Bruce Stonefish, Lenape community member.
There are two short clips you can experience: one that shares the importance of the wigwams, and the other the Lenape Creation Story.
Painting a picture
Something that really draws people in is the beautiful painting by Aamjiwnaang artist John Williams.
The painting depicts a mother bear with her cub, strong symbols in Ojibwe culture and personally important to John Williams, a member of the bear clan.
Within the bears are images relating to the seasons, cultural figures and significant plants all within the colours of the medicine wheel.
The medicine wheel was also represented through the art of Naomi Peters, a Caldwell artist.
She contributed eight paintings depicting the seven animals of the grandfather teachings around the medicine wheel.
These animals, though not all currently native to Rondeau, are prominent in the Ojibwe culture and show a strength to the history of these teachings – dating back to a time when the ranges of the people and the animals were greater.
This year, the Caldwell First Nations created a storywalk to be placed along Tulip Tree Trail.
Now visitors can enjoy the beauty of the trail while following the journey of Rainey and Mkinaak as the characters share traditional stories of wildlife they spot along the way.
This is an excellent opportunity to learn some Anishinaabemowin. Children love this experience as they run to the next page of the story.
While travelling this journey with Aamjiwnaang, Eelünaapèewii Lahkèewiit, and Caldwell First Nations, we’ve attended many celebrations including pow wows, Distribution Day, and Heritage Days, meeting community members from all over, many of whom told stories and shared their language with us.
Many of these moments were captured to be included on touchscreen displays in the Visitor Centre for others to learn as we have.
The word “gathering” in English, Lenape and Ojibwe is written above the art as a tribute to the efforts of all the park staff and community members that gathered together to make this project possible.
It also represents the gathering of knowledge, an essential part moving forward in our shared futures.