The land is the part of nature that we interact with the most. Our homes are on land, as are our schools. We play on the land; the food we eat comes from the land; the land sustains us.
But who gets to decide how the land is used and what it is used for? If we go back in time, we find the answer. Originally, Indigenous People were the stewards of the land. But treaties were made between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples and favoured the crown, taking land from Indigenous Peoples, often for little compensation, and giving it to settlers.
The Township of Uxbridge is on the land covered by one of the Williams Treaties (read this post here to learn more!). The Williams Treaties First Nations are comprised of seven First Nations and they have always gathered food and medicine from the land. This includes manoomin (wild rice), wilgwaas (birch bark), minaan (berries), mushkiikiiwug (medicinal plants), and maple syrup.
Even though Indigenous Peoples relied on these foods and remained the knowledge keepers on how to gather them, the biased treaties removed Indigenous land title and rights – namely, harvesting rights. This even included removing their hunting and fishing rights everywhere outside of reserves. The land that was taken from Indigenous people was then given to others. This land that became the land that settlers would use to build homes and farms. While these industries are key in Uxbridge, the removal of the land rights from Indigenous people was impactful.
Food has power associated with it because people need it to live. The Indigenous Food Sovereignty movement aims to reclaim that power and bring harvesting land rights back to Indigenous Peoples. It acknowledges their right to make their own decisions about food. Indigenous Food Sovereignty is an ongoing fight that requires effort from both settlers and Indigenous People. Raising your voice for Indigenous rights can help continue reconciliation and ensure Indigenous rights are protected. The First Nations of the Williams Treaties have proved this when fighting for their right to harvest food from the land for both personal and community use.
Learning the history of the land and the traditional foods is also a great way to learn more about Indigenous People as the traditional stewards and knowledge holders of this land. Even practices that we think of as so traditionally Canadian, like maple syrup harvesting, are actually learned from Indigenous People.
The Anishinaabeg traditionally present an offering before tapping trees. This can take many forms, such as placing tobacco at the base of the tree. It is a way to ask the tree to share its sap and to thank it in return. Traditionally, an axe or chisel is used to make cuts that a flat piece of wood is placed in. The sap then runs down into a birchbark bucket. When settlers came to this land, the Indigenous Peoples taught them how to make maple syrup.
Learning the history and the traditional words used in maple syrup making is a way to give thanks to Indigenous Peoples who have shared their traditional knowledge. This is just one way that settlers can start a journey of decolonization and put in effort to understand the traditional practices associated with the land on which we live, work, and play.