Nathan Tidridge Transcript

NATHAN TIDRIDGE: Thank you very much, it's a real honour to be here. I'm a Settler Educator in Waterdown, Ontario and I'm trying my very best to be a good ally. A responsibility I feel especially being part of a system that committed so much harm.

I'm honoured to be here in Treaty 1. I'm also honoured to be here in the homeland of the Red River Michif Nation. I was with Elder Harry Bone a number of years ago and he told me that to be at the confluence of these two rivers is a place where creators hand touched at the centre of Turtle Island, and I'm conscious of that every time that I'm in Winnipeg. So, thank you for for allowing me to be here again.

My project is a project that's ongoing right now and hopefully we will have completed in two weeks time — fingers crossed. There's a lot of moving parts, teachers know, but everything seems to be going according to plan. So we will see.

It's called the Waterdown Platinum Jubilee Treaty Forest. The Treaty Forest is the centered aspect of it, and I'll explain why here. I love that Fort Garry just seems to be percolating up in everyone's presentations.

The inspiration for this project is a project that's being done right now by the country's Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners. It's that this project is the project that mine is inspired by was sponsored by Saskatchewan's Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty and Manitoba's wonderful Janice Filmon, and it's called the Platinum Jubilee Garden and it's intended to use the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II to actually centre the critical crown Indigenous relationships that are threaded across Turtle Island.

The genesis for this campaign came from Winnipeg's own Upper Fort Garry. The Governor's Garden, which is now preserved in Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park, was once a space where the Lieutenant Governor, as the Queen's representative, would meet with Indigenous delegations, perform ceremonies, accept petitions, and negotiate Treaty.

The idea was to create spaces that would honour the critical relationships, many of which were created in ceremony, that exist between the Queen and Indigenous Peoples in this land, and what the gardens look like depends on what those relationships, Treaty or otherwise, are across the continent.

It's up to each vice regal representative to work and learn from their Treaty partners to determine the location, the plants, the medicines, and the layout.

So it's a project to educate The Crown, an institution that perpetuated colonialism, on their critical responsibilities regarding their ancient relationships on this continent. So, it's what we in the education world would call project-based learning for The Crown.

The common thread is that each garden is being gifted with a tobacco that was grown at a Chapel Royal that The Queen created in 2017.

I was privileged to witness the dedication of one of these gardens, which was co-created by the Territorial Commissioner Margaret Thom of the Dene Nation and the Canadian Armed Forces in Yellowknife by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall last month.

And as Commissioner Thom explained to the Prince. She said to him, "It is important that you understand that the Platinum Jubilee Garden is seen as something separate from just honouring the Platinum Jubilee of The Queen. Rather it honours Treaty, which is why it is filled with sacred plants like tobacco, sweet grass, and cedar."

Her Honour said too that orange flowers must be included. She told him, "I didn't care about the type of flower I recognized this is the north, but she said they had to be orange," and this was done to honour the children.

A member of the Dene Nation wrote me afterwards explaining the garden in his perspective. He said these gardens represent a place, a designated spot where spirit and land come together to generate places of contemplation. Not so much more the celebration of the Monarch but rather why the crown remains relevant in Canada in 2022.

And so, the Waterdown Platinum Jubilee Forest is inspired by such teachings.

So, we saw it as an opportunity to continue honoring Waterdown's relationship with its Treaty partner who are the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. And what we decided to do was to centre the Treaty relationship that already exists on our territory, and we wanted to do so by building off previous collaborations that we had done.

The Souharissen Natural Area, which Canada's History was was kind enough to to highlight, the Canoe Garden, which is part of that.

We worked with all kinds of different partners, we're working with all kinds of different partners — the city of Hamilton, the Rotary Club of Waterdown, and of course the Mississaugas of the Credit. They're our central partner, our central concern, and that is told to the kids throughout this this project.

Thanks to our city councillor, and our Chief, Ogimaa, Stacey Laforme, we were able to find a location near our community north of the community where 70 trees would be planted. Sixty-nine are currently planted right now, we're waiting for the seventieth. I'll explain that in a second.

We were able to get partial funding from the Government of Canada, but also it was really important to us that we had community stakeholders involved with this, and so we community fundraise because they of course have responsibility for this space.

The first step was the co-creation with the Mississaugas of the Credit of a vision for the project, and this had to be approved by the Ogimaa and Council as well as the Elders in the community. And so, over the few months, before the project was actually launched, we created this statement with the land and when we had the wording absolutely perfect then it was published and presented to the students.

The forest, the idea behind the forest, is that it would highlight future collaborations but also become a base for future collaborations between members of the community, our school, but also the Nation in whose territory that we are in. It would be a place of ceremony and a place for Indigenous folks to see themselves in the community.

Elder Carolyn King, an Elder that works closely with us. I remember her telling me one of the first times that I met her what was that she said every time she drives to Toronto — so their territory is quite large, it goes from Toronto all the way down to London, Ontario and to Niagara Falls — but the reserve is near a place called Hagersville, which is not in Toronto.

And so, they have to drive to Toronto regularly and she says, "I always look out the car and I never see myself in all of this sprawl." So, she wanted places to see herself, so that that was part of the inspiration.

The idea also will become an educational space for local students. To learn about Treaty, but also their responsibilities in Treaty. Not just the history but what does that mean in the present.

These are the original instructions, oh sorry, that's the space itself. So, there's a pond, there's twenty pre-existing cedar trees, which is sacred to the Mississaugas is medicine. So, we've kept those, and then 70 trees will be added to that. A sacred fire that was critical to the Mississaugas. They wanted a permanent space for a sacred fire.

The construction class will begin work on that next week. They have to be done by the 18th, so they assure me they will be done.

We have a lookout looking over the Grindstone Creek, which is the creek that runs through our community. The original name of that water has been lost and so we are working with Elders to try and see what we can do about that because Grindstone merely highlights its industrial history but it's much more than that.

And the central tree will be a white pine tree. White pine were the original trees that grew on that territory before they were clear-cut at settlement. The Prince's Trust Canada is actually donating the central tree on behalf of the Prince of Wales for that ceremony. So, that will be tree number 70.

The Forest itself has been designed by students and that was really important. And working with the Mississaugas back and forth initially over Zoom, and then thankfully in person. That was really critical that we had in person. And these were the original instructions that were given to the students by the Mississaugas and myself.

So, in consultation, they were to design a monument stone that would be installed on the site to identify and explain the Treaty force. That monument stone was just approved yesterday actually after 11 drafts, so we're very excited about that and it will be installed.

In consultation with the Mississaugas, determine which species of trees are appropriate for the Treaty Forest, and so they did that, and very interestingly we learned that the only trees available that the city of Hamilton had were ornamental trees. No native species trees. We went to the local nurseries only ornamental trees.

So, thankfully, the city of Hamilton sourced and found native trees, so only native trees and native species will go in here. But, that was a real education for the students and brought a lot of conversations around colonization and how gardens use that and how landscaping uses that.

In consultation with the Mississaugas and the Rotary Club of Waterdown and the city of Hamilton, determined the location, design, and signage of a sacred fire, which was done. As well, correct signage for the the lookout that we have there that will explain which Treaties that they're apart of. What their responsibilities are, as well as the local environment.

And then design the whole ceremony of actually planting the trees and doing it in a good way and doing it with the Mississaugas and finding out what needs to be done.

So, we created briefs for each one, for what happened was is students were allowed to form into fluid voluntary committees. So, we had the kids all in the class and then there was certain committees that were formed — we determined which ones.

And then kids could kind of float between the ones before they landed in one that they liked. There was a land committee, a secret fire committee, a dedication committee among others, and we created briefs. The Mississaugas and I created briefs.

And so, there was always core principles for them to keep in mind and then there was always questions that they had to answer throughout this process that they're continuing to work through.

And we also gave them places where they can research. I think that's critical for teachers because, especially for project-based learning, what a lot of teachers will do is they just kind of unleash their students on the internet. And that is the worst possible thing that you can do.

We have to curate where they look to make sure that the resources are good and appropriate and from the, you know, from the right Elders and Knowledge Keepers. Of course too, that also includes bringing those Knowledge Keepers into the classroom to talk to our students.

This is a, sorry an older slide, something that was also added. Everything had to be tied to the United Nations Declaration the Rights of Indigenous People and which articles in particular that their different committee would work with.

And overall the project is tied to article 25 of the United Nations Declaration the Rights of Indigenous People. That Indigenous People have the right to the land, right to their ceremony, and right to practice ceremony on the land as they see fit.

I thought I'd just put down how I saw my role as the teacher in this. It's a lot of work. It's changing from kind of teacher at the front of the room to teacher as facilitator, and so the things that I saw as paramount for myself. My job was to liaison with different groups that the students would be in contact with.

Primarily that is the Mississaugas of the Credit Ogimaa and Council, and we had councillors that we were directly tied to. Councillor Erma Ferrell and Councillor Fawn Sault to the point of texting when kids had questions, calling them up, video conferences, things like that — visits to the classroom.

We did a point, or I appointed a student chairperson, so the students themselves had ownership over this and that student chairperson would kind of keep an eye on everyone to make sure that everyone kind of knew what they were doing, you know, any questions, and things like that.

There's always students that are afraid to ask questions in the room, so sometimes they feel more comfortable bringing it to a peer and then that that peer can can bring it forward.

The city of Hamilton and navigating municipal politics, which is an effort as I'm sure the Elders, and Knowledge Keepers in this room, Indigenous People in this room, know.

And teaching my students about what that represents in Nation-to-Nation relationship. How municipalities operate in that, and how roadblocks that come up, and students we witness that in real time.

Trying to put a sacred fire in a in what the city sees as a public park completely natural for Indigenous folks. For a city for city who's obsessed with bylaw and liability — completely different. So, we had to do a lot of education around that.

The Waterdown Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and then the grant that we got was a Platinum Jubilee grant, so we had to fit all of that in there and educate people along the way as to how this fits in.

As well provide clear curriculum-based parameters for the students as they navigate the the project and the various tasks that they will encounter.

Ontario where we're working on our curriculum — our curriculum is getting better. We're doing lots of consultation and lots of good work in that respect, and so there are lots of curricular based ways to do it, and not just in history but cross-curricular — science, math, civics, all kinds of things, so there's lots to work with.

You don't even really have to be that inventive it's all right there in front of you — and document the learning. Pictures, writing things down, getting reflections from students, mainly verbal reflections is actually what I worked with. Not forcing them to constantly be writing and writing and writing.

As well as a history teacher there's a tremendous responsibility that I make sure that my students are not navigating all of these teachings and relationships in the dark, and particularly as my school is primarily settler but of course we must always operate as if there is an Indigenous person in every classroom that we are operating in and so how do we do that in a good way?

And for me what I would do is and continue to do is as we navigate through things with the Forest we will all intersperse it with lessons like what is the history of this land that goes back 10 millennia? That their community is found on.

What treaties are threaded into the land, and not just the Treaties that the government puts forward, but other Treaties including the one that we are foundationally based in in my territory which is the silver covenant chain called the Treaty of Niagara from 1764.

The imposition of the Indian Act and how the Indian Act continues to work. Systemic racism, systemic colonialism how those systems work, and our students could see that playing out in real time especially when they looked at the documents themselves and understood what was happening.

Canada's governmental structure, we're a federation, but we have we are very governed in this country with federal provincial and municipal governments, and how do they work? How do they work together and individually to hinder Treaty rights?

UNDRIP. What is UNDRIP? What are the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People? What does it mean for the future of our federation, and the future of our community together?

And what does it mean when the Canadian government says we are going to bring it into the system? Okay, how do we hold them to account as good allies?

Examples of other Indigenous-Crown and Indigenous-State relationships. We looked at New Zealand, New Zealand is doing some amazing work with the Maori Nation. One of my favourite things that they're doing is they're granting, or recognizing rather, human rights in rivers, mountains.

They're de-listing national parks and re-incorporating them as as sovereign entities with human rights. It's remarkable. Canada should be doing this. It's just a remarkable thing.

And highlight the role of the Crown in Treaty, as well as its use in the colonial imperial project. It was highlighted that we have our first Indigenous Governor General, and Mary Simon at her installation piece, she said that she saw her role as one to sit in the tension.

And I thought that captures it right there, that is the role of the Crown. It sits in this tension of this past and this present and that's what I see this project doing. And to embrace that tension, and to not shy away from it.

The last thing I put was maintaining communication lines with participant students, Mississaugas’ office, and so I have a website, which strangely enough I didn't post up for you but we'll post it somewhere, so you can see it so you can actually follow the project. Every document that the kids have looked. Everything is posted there for them.

So, these were the committees: Land Committee, Monument Committee, Sacred Fire Committee, Lions Club Lookout Committee, and the Dedication Planting Committee. And we were working separately, but with a common purpose. With a student chairperson coordinating the work.

And it's been a task but it's been a wonderful learning task, and just before — oh yes — and the last thing what makes a project like this work? Relationship. It's a project that you can't do overnight. It a result of building relationships within our community, doing other projects together, and building on that.

It can't be a one-off and and done sort of thing. It doesn't end with the semester. It continues on over years and years and years. And the relationships and learning that students have, and that I have. I'm learning as much if not more than the students right now. It's just a wonderful thing.

And the last thing to show you is, it doesn't look like much, you can see these little trees. On May 26th, so just last week, it was a — it's spring in high school and student or teachers know spring in high school is always a animated time, and it's also, for us in Ontario, it is the first time we've had students in the classroom in spring since 2019. So, it's been warm beautiful weather, so students are bouncing off the walls a little bit.
So, I needed to, on my lunch, I just needed to get out for a second and I went I said I'll just go to the site where the Treaty Forest is, and lo and behold the city had planted the trees. And so, I was just standing there in these trees, all native trees, I texted the Mississaugas — they were so happy.

Everything just kind of came together in that moment, and it's gonna be a place of learning, a place of of Treaty, it's in a high volume area in our community. Everyone uses it. And I'm excited to see what this space looks like if I'm fortunate to see it in 20, 30, 40 years’ time.

But with that, I would like to say thank you very much for having me and it's a great honour to be here. And thank you for having me on your territory, thank you.