By John Bacher
Posted June 28th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – For the past two years the Haudenosaunee have been involved in a heroic struggle to protect the more than 500 acre Thundering Water Forest in Niagara Falls.
Located in Niagara Falls near the conflux of the Adam Beck Generating Power Canal and the Welland River, this rare mix of Carolinian habitat forms a large forest block, including publicly owned parklands along the Welland River.
In this struggle a prominent role has been played by an Oneida family with long roots in Niagara Falls, the Dockstaders. A respected elder of this family Bob, spoke to Niagara Falls City Council on May 8, and identified himself as part of the Oneida Bear Clan.
Karl Dockstader has been involved in the struggle in many ways, notably penning a tribute to an ancient tree he termed the “Thunder Oak.” It was a little seedling in the forest when the Treaty of Niagara was signed near the forest in 1764.
The Dockstaders have in practice carried out the wise teachings of native elders and intellectuals that I have been blessed to hear from, frequently working with my friend, Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan. What this learned people teach is that native sovereignty is not something that is cited in abstract texts. It is asserted, or taken in practical measures.
While the Thundering Waters Forest is overwhelmingly diverse precious native Carolinian habitat, home to threatened native species such as bats and turtles, along its edges there has been trash dumping.
This problem has been used by developers and politicians in support of its destruction as a rationale to legitimate their schemes. Tackling this problem is not easy, since GR Canada has threatened those such as Owen Borjen, who propose to organize trash clean ups, have been threatened with arrest and substantial fines.
The Dockstaders took part in an unusual assertion of native sovereignty a trash clean up. Garbage notably tires were pulled out of a vernal pool, now identified in a consultant’s report as Wetland Number Five. This wetland, which the owner GR Canada attempted unsuccessfully to be Down Rated, may contain polypods of the Endangered Jefferson Salamander.
Removing tires with their toxins that can kill salamanders was an act of asserting sovereignty. The tires were gathered below in Wetland Five, pulled up with a rope, assembled and driven in a truck by a dedicated ecologist Adrin Willems. This simple act done of defiance of GR Canada, a corporate entity owned by the powerful state of China was a powerful assertion of native sovereignty.
In their eloquent speeches to Niagara Falls City Council, which incorporated native teachings about the important role of the now exterminated Passenger Pigeon, whose arrival in the past served as s symbol of the arrival of the sap of maples for trapping, the Dockstaders stressed the role of the Thundering Waters Forest for simple human happiness.
In describing the joy it gave to children blessed by experiencing its presence, the Dockstaders built upon my experiences and those of one of the presenters on May 8 who lives near it, Derek Jones.
Quite movingly, Jones described how the Thundering Waters provided comfort for him during critical periods of his life, being a place of solace for his family in times of trauma. I have found that camping in the forest has cured deep depressions.
Karl Dockstader has been quite eloquent about the great beauty of the place. He has written that even lands which are not designated as protected forests (Environmental Conservation Areas) under the Niagara Region’s Official Plan, “are host to pollinator meadows that include important plants such as the dense blazing star and milkweed – the only plant that can sustain the monarch butterfly a species of concern.”
Karl Dockstader has pleaded that such so called “disturbed areas” based on actions in the 1920s, “look beautiful to the common person.” These areas mocked by developer paid consultants as “cultural thickets” may in reality be hawthorn savannas.” They are a refuge for a Endangered bird, the Barn Swallow.
The Dockstaders’ presentation of healing truths to power was combined with work on a more customary approach to native land rights. Karl Dockstader’s brief stressed that,
“The Project will impair treaty rights and at a minimum will have the affect of extinguishing harvesting rights on the subject lands.” Despite this Alex Herlovitch, Director of Niagara Fall’s City Planning Department maintains that “as the subject lands are removed from the slough forest, the traditional rights of hunting, harvesting and fishing have been protected.”
Herlovitch’s attempt to say that maintaining harvesting rights are compatible with forest and savanna destruction for urban development are based on his science fiction approach to land use planning.
This maintains that before the forests will be destroyed for urbanization in two to five years they will be replaced by invasive Buckthorn. Such an approach to land use planning based on assumptions of Buckthroun replacing Green Ash killed by the Emerald Ash Boer will be replaced by Buckthorn.
More reliable scientific study conducted by the US Forest Service has found that the successor species are various varieties of oak.
The trickery used around the issue of Buckthorn resembles the deviousness earlier around what was termed “bio-diversity offsetting.” This concept of destroying old growth forested wetlands to be recreated resulted in an oppositional brief by a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan to Niagara Falls City council, Danny Beaton. Following his protest, wet land offsetting was rejected by the provincial government.
The Haudenosaunee have struggled to defend the natural heritage protected by the treaties that were blessed by the shade of the Thunder Oak. Let us hope their wisdom prevails in future land use planning battles by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) now that Niagara Falls City Council has approved the Riverfront development.
This commentary was written by. John Bacher, a long-time conservation activist in Niagara, Ontario, a Greenbelt Campaign leader at Sierra Club Ontario, and a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) (link is external).
For more from John Bacher, click on – https://johnbacherphd.wordpress.com/
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