Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Prairie Below the Trees

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Today’s Blog Post
The Prairie Below the Trees

I was struck by the amount of flat land there is from Ohsweken to Port Colbourne – then from there to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We had traveled slowly across this southern party of Ontario that is sided by Lake Erie. This is not the most interesting are of Ontario for sure… yet it has been lived on for many centuries before the non-Aboriginal people arrived.

Maybe my thinking just drifted this way because of meeting the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. After staying in the Bear’s Inn and spending much time thinking… I was deeply moved to think, these people have lived here forever.

It has been since the time of the mid 1600s to mid 1700s that some of “my kind” showed up to the land of this area.

Pierre Berton’s book “Niagara” is a wonderful story of the fascination that the white man had in finding the Falls and the Gorge leading down to Lake Ontario.

The millions of people that come annually to this area are always bowled over by what they see at the tourist spot. They spend their million upon millions to get a glimpse of the huge water fall visage.

Yet long before the tourists came the Aboriginal people of the Niagara Peninsula simply knew it as home. They didn’t need to run to see if the water was still falling, it was part of home.

Yesterday as I drove through their homeland, there were lots of thoughts about these folks that lived here long before we came,.

When we left the Bear’s inn we drove around the Reserve to just see as much as we could. It is home for so many. And as home they live quietly and well on their land. We stopped at one spot and listened. There was no sound. Yet, being within a very short distance from some major cities, the people that live here live experience a wonderful peace. You would never know that Wall Mart is not far away and as is Costco. Just a short distance away is all the ‘comforts’ that we need.

The road from Port Dover to Dunville skirts Lake Erie. It crosses the field and passes clumps of bushes that are left at the edge of fields after the clearing of hundreds of years ago.

An interesting thing is happening. Old farms have shut down in many places. The buildings lay in ruin. Raccoons are having their own invasion and will eventually destroy the old houses.

Fields are still worked but huge companies have set up shop and their businesses that basically control the use of the land in some areas. This was particularly evident east of Port Dover.

There were some fields that no longer were being farmed. The trees were growing back and covering the land that their great, great, great Grandmother Trees once lived on.

As I drove along my wife slept.

And my imagination went wild thinking of the people that once lived here. They lived well and gathering food from the water and the forest would have been so easy. It was a beautiful place so long ago. You can drive for miles and l miles and never see anyone – anywhere.

Now just a short few miles north of the areas that we drove through is the Niagara corridor which leaves Hamilton and ends at Niagara Falls – Canada and USA – tourist areas. Just a few miles north of the land that I drove on it is downright dangerous to drive slow.

The white, brown, black and every colour under the sun rush by to see the wonder at the south end of the Gorge. Yet up on the higher, prairie like areas of the Peninsula time has been frozen and not much changes. And fortunately the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation maintains a life style that is quieter.

No I am not stupid. The Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation have their own trouble that is inherent with people living closely to each other. They have their own Police Force to look after their own people. And knowing people as I do, they are busy at times.

I entitled this piece “The Prairie Below the Trees”.

Driving through this area I was reminded of my own Prairie roots in Saskatchewan. The land of southern Ontario that runs from Ohsweken to Port Dover is flat. It is very flat. The land that runs from Regina to Truax, Saskatchewan is also flat. The differences are slight – Saskatchewan has very few trees at all.

Both of these flat areas supported thousands of people that lived side by side very well without Wall Mart or Costco – long, long ago!

But both of these areas now need the mega stores and all the trimmings to survive.

I have “sadness” in me today and I think back to the times when it was different.

Last evening as we walked along the south shore of Lake Ontario I spotted monument that told of a huge battle in 1813. The Americans had blasted away at a Fort on the “Canada” side of the Niagara River. The Americans then invaded and chased the British soldiers that had been maintaining their possession of this part of Canada. The British soldiers stood their ground at Stony Creek and beat the Americans back and maintained their control of this area of Canada.

As I read the plaque on the monument that was helping me to remember the heroic battle against the horrible Americans, I was moved and left with another question.

Why is there not another monument that tells of the story of how the people of another place (in fact other places) came in and took away the land that was once owned by the original people – who we politely call Aboriginal.

Lots to think of as we walk across this part of the Peninsula today. Lots to think about.

~ Murray Lincoln ~ 


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