Preserving Thundering Waters As A Native-Administered Park Could Be A Source Of Healing & Redressing Past Injustices

By John Bacher

Posted September 7th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

(The second of two pieces Niagara At Large is posting by John Bacher on why Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario should become a Native-administered nature refuge.)

It is to the credit of inspiring leaders like Karl Dockstader, a member of this region’s Indigenous community, that Native people in Niagara have made the protection of the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario an issue of treaty rights.

A giant white oak tree is part of the rich biodiversity in the Thundering Waters Forest, a natural area under threat of urban development in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Why can't it be preserved as a Native-administered nature sanctuary?

A giant white oak tree is part of the rich biodiversity in the Thundering Waters Forest, a natural area under threat of urban development in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Why can’t it be preserved as a Native-administered nature sanctuary?

One great hope is that this issue can be resolved through the forest becoming a healing park- dedicated to the protection of ecology and the culture of Native peoples.

To that end, Canada’s federal and the government of Ontario should purchase the land from the current owners for this purpose.

A piece I wrote and was posted in Niagara At Large this Tuesday, September 6th, I focused on the combined oppression of Natives and the destruction of wetlands in southern Ontario.

The situation was so extreme that wetland destruction was seen as a way to remove Natives from what white settlers viewed as a ‘lazy way of life’ by making it impossible to gather rice, berries and other resources that supported Navie communities.

Preserving Thundering Waters as a tribal park offers an opportunity for healing some of the wounds of this historic injustice.

One example of a Native administrated nature refuge and sacred place is the Petroglyphs Provincial Park, northeast of Peterborough, Ontario which is cared for by the Curve Lake First Nation. The 1,200 ancient stone carvings there are often called “the teaching rocks.”

There is a good deal of teaching that needs to be done at Thundering Waters.

We should be taught, for instance and just as one of very examples, about how wild American Plum trees are descended from seeds of trees brought here by Native people thousands of years ago.

We have monuments and museums that pay tribute to individuals who have, among other things, been despoilers of Niagara’s environment over the past two centuries, but nothing of any real note to the Native people who worked to safeguard it.

Further to the Petroglyphs Provincial Park in the Peterborough area, there are many other examples of well managed Native parks whose principles can be used in guiding the creation of a Thundering Waters Park.

One is the Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site. One of the benefits of the strategy for protecting this sacred space is that it is guarded by Haida Watchmen, who live on site. What better way to protect the vernal pools of Thundering Waters which provide breeding habitat for frogs and salamanders from being contaminated by garbage as happens now.

In Vancouver, there is a fine example of an urban native park, the Pacific Spirit Regional Park. It emerged out of negotiations with the Musqueam Nation and protects six hundreds acres in forest.

The Pacific Spirt Regional Park also has a mandate to enhance Native culture. So much so, that it hasencouraged a revival of Native crafts and recreational activities, most spectacularly canoeing in traditional carved and colourfully painted dugouts.

A Thundering Waters Park – protected and preserved as a sacred place – would be a wonderful source of healing and inspiration.

The stories to be taught would be unique in Niagara and ones we could be proud of about pulling together of Native and non-Native people alike to protect our Mother Earth.

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara

For more on Greening Niagara click on

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