Sacred Fire for Beaver Pond Forest starts Wed in Toronto

Media Release ~~ February 8, 2011 ~~ For Immediate Release

SACRED FIRE WILL BURN AT QUEEN’S PARK FOR OTTAWA’S SOUTH MARCH HIGHLANDS

(Toronto) Daniel Amikwabe Bernard, Algonquin Firekeeper, will keep a Sacred Fire burning at Queen’s Park from Wednesday 9th to Sunday 13th February to urge the province to halt tree-clearing and to promote understanding about Ottawa’s most important ecological and cultural heritage area.

The South March Highlands is one of the most bio-diverse areas remaining in urban Canada, with more than 675 different species of life, including 240 species of wildlife and over 134 different types of nesting birds.

For the past year local citizens, environmentalists and First Nations groups representing over 14,000 people have mounted a vigorous campaign to save undeveloped lands in the 10,000-year-old, ecologically unique, South March Highlands.  In the 1970s it was protected as a Natural Environmental Area but urban development has steadily eroded it until less than 1/3rd remains protected.  Citizens have actively opposed development since 1981 because the South March Highlands is an old-growth forest having the densest bio-diversity in Ottawa and provides critical habitat for 20 species-at-risk.

In the latest assault on the forest, KNL Developments recently began clear-cutting trees for a subdivision in an area known locally as the Beaver Pond Forest, even though development depends on planned water diversions without Environmental Assessment and a questionable archaeological study.

The principal Algonquin Spiritual Elder, Grandfather William Commanda, Ancestral Carrier of the 3 Sacred Wampum Belts, Officer of the Order of Canada, recognized as a spiritual leader and founder of the Circle of All Nations, considers the South March Highlands to be Sacred and sees this as an opportunity to renew our sustainable relationship with Mother Earth.

Algonquin across the Ottawa River Watershed in both Ontario and Quebec have called for a comprehensive archaeological assessment of the area.  KNL’s archaeological study was accepted by the Ministry of Culture in 2004 despite being described as ‘fatally flawed’ by Dr. Robert McGhee, past president of the Canadian Archaeological Association.  A review of the KNL study by Groupe de recherche archéologique de l’Outaouais (GRAO) led by Marcel LaLiberté, concurred that the area “can no longer be ignored as of low archaeological potential”.

In addition to questioning many irregularities in development approvals, the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands has put forward creative proposals for stewardship of the South March Highlands that the City of Ottawa and the Provincial Ministries of Environment (MoE), Natural Resources (MNR), Culture (MTC), Aboriginal Affairs (MAA) and Municipal Affairs (MMHA) have to-date declined to discuss.

“We are also asking why the MNR has yet to confirm the area as a provincially- significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest despite the fact it was recommended for that designation in 1992, and why the MMHA has yet to enforce the Provincial Policy Statement that prevents development in ecologically significant areas such as ANSI candidates,” says Paul Renaud, of the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands.

“We are asking why the MoE is allowing development to proceed without Environmental Assessments and why the MAA has yet to uphold the Canadian Constitution which requires the Crown to consult and accommodate the interests of First Nations,” adds Renaud.

Starting Wednesday, a Sacred Fire will burn as a beacon of hope within the provincial capital to promote understanding and to request support from the Ministry of Tourism & Culture, to issue a Ministerial Order to halt the clear-cutting, in light of the two independent archaeological reviews, and the discovery of potentially significant sites since the 2004 MTC approval.

In an unprecedented recognition of aboriginal religious practices by the Provincial Legislature, permission has been granted to keep the Sacred Fire burning day and night. The Sacred Fire is an altar for prayer and visitors are invited to approach respectfully and spend time with the Firekeeper to learn more about the South March Highlands and to discuss our relationship with Mother Earth.

On Sunday, February 13th, the Sacred Fire will go out at mid-day.  There will be Closing ceremonies, with drumming, prayers, and singing, a message from Grandfather William Commanda, and from other First Nations elders and chiefs.  Everyone is invited to join with us regardless of religion, race, or culture.

PLEASE NOTE:  There is a protocol regarding filming and photography at the Sacred Fire and media are kindly asked to speak with the Firekeeper before recording or photographing.

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The Sacred Fire will be directly in front of the Provincial Legislature at Queen’s Park.

For more information:

Daniel Amikwabe Bernard – 416-876-3051

Liaison for Daniel Bernard: Peter Haresnape, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Aboriginal Justice Team – 647-838-8455 or office 416-423-5525

Paul Renaud, Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands  —  613-277-5898

Background Info:

UPDATE:

On the morning of Tues Feb 8th, approximately 20 community members staged an action in the forest, surrounding the cutting machines and temporarily preventing them from further destroying the forest:

Beaver Pond Forest: Welcome Rally for Chan & McGuinty

Saturday, February 5 · 6:00pm – 7:00pm
The Westin Hotel (11 Colonel By Drive, attached to the Rideau Centre), Ottawa

** Update: article in Ottawa Citizen “Westin hotel orders South March Highlands protester to leave”

Provincial Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan has the power to issue an emergency stop work order for cutting of the Beaver Pond Forest, under the Ontario Heritage Act section 62. Please consider joining us at 6pm for a rally outside the Westin, where the provincial Liberals are gathered from Feb 4-6, and where Dalton McGuinty is set to deliver a speech at 6:30pm Saturday.

Note:

This is part of a letter from Minister Chan dated February 4, 2011:

“The Ministry of Tourism and Culture’s role in this situation is limited to the regulation of archaeology. The ministry is not an approval authority in respect of any development project.

The ministry regulates archaeology by licensing archaeologists under the Ontario Heritage Act and reviews archaeological assessment reports as a condition of licensing in accordance with Part VI of the act.

The assessment ofthe property in question was completed under the 1993 technical guidelines, and on June 1, 2004 the ministry issued a letter confirming that the assessment report met all of the requirements.

We recognize the City of Ottawa’s efforts to foster dialogue between the development proponent and the Aboriginal community on this issue.”

The assessment referred to, prepared for the developers and accepted by the Ministry in 2004, was reviewed by an independent archaeologist, Dr. Robert McGhee, in 2010:  click here to read the review. More recently, a review of the assessment was conducted by the Groupe de recherche archaeologique de l’Outaouais (GRAO) for the Algonquins of Ontario: read Ottawa Citizen article here.

Both reviews of the initial assessment are strong grounds for Minister Chan to issue a stop order on cutting so that further archaeological study can be done.

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The South March Highlands have the highest density of bio-diversity in Ottawa and have been recognized as provincially significant for its ecological value for 20 years.

We have found physical evidence that the SMH is also provincially significant for pre-contact aboriginal cultural heritage, possibly containing sites not found elsewhere in Ontario.

Despite the recommendation of its own Advisory Committee on Arts & Culture, the City of Ottawa has to-date failed to properly assess this evidence and the sites that we have reported, saying that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Culture to require a new study.

To-date there have been 2 independent reviews conducted by eminent archaeologists of the situation.   Dr. Robert McGhee and Dr. Marcel LaLiberte are highly respected across Canada and around the world.  They have concluded that the Minister needs to order a new study and that the entirety of the South March Highlands are of extremely high archaeological potential.

The Algonquin First Nations in both Ontario and Quebec have all demanded that their cultural heritage be protected by the Minister – yet he refuses to fulfill his responsibility as a Minister of the Crown to accommodate the legitimate request of First Nations.

Minister Chan has not explained why he chooses to ignore their scientific assessments and why his Ministry refuses to consider the new evidence at hand.

We are here to ask him “why not?”

Contact Minister Michael Chan:

Ministry of Tourism and Culture
9th Floor, Hearst Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto ON M7A 2E1
Tel: 416-326-9326
Fax: 416-326-9338
mchan.mpp@liberal.ola.org

450 Alden Rd., Unit 5
Markham ON L3R 5H4
Tel: 905-305-1935
Fax: 905-305-1938
mchan.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org