Canada 150 and camping: Whose land are we on?

It’s an overcast day, the steeliness of the sky reflected in the lake. Our canoe is bobbing up and down on the waves. We try to paddle as close as possible to the rocks along the shore to get a closer look at the pictographs. Red ochre outlines. People in a canoe. A bird in flight. Antlers. Thousand-year-old stories recorded on the land. It starts to rain and we set out to find a campsite before Quetico’ s moodiness engulfs us.

pictographs in Quetico

Pictographs in Quetico Provincial Park

This is my 100th post on Gone Camping blog. I thought long and hard what this post should be about. Best trips? Worst camping moments? Favourite places? Roads yet untravelled? I even wrote a post about the beauty of everyday nature encounters, which I will publish later. In the end, I decided to write about Canada 150. I guess it would be more symbolic if it was the 150th post but there wasn’t enough time between now and this Saturday to squeeze in 50 more posts.

What does Quetico have to do with Canada 150? I am getting to it. But first let me start with this: we are not celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. I don’t want to come across as ungrateful. Canada is my adopted home and there are many things I appreciate about living here: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; universal healthcare (which is not perfect but at least doesn’t require for most people to make a choice between their child’s health and bankruptcy); meeting people from all over the world on the streets of Toronto; and, of course, Canada’s natural beauty.  And while I acknowledge all the opportunities my family has been given here, I also recognize that these opportunities come at the expense of others thanks to the system built on colonization and oppression of Indigenous peoples. Canada 150 not only erases thousands of years of Indigenous presence on Turtle Island, but also celebrates some of the worst times for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples: a century and a half marked by broken treaties, land theft, residential schools, assimilation, Sixties Scoop, among other things.

Residential schools exhibition at Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa

Residential schools exhibition at Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa

Some may say why bring up politics on the blog about camping. Isn’t camping just about getting outside, having some fun and reconnecting with nature? I thought that way for the longest time too because my privilege allowed me to believe that I could live and travel outside of politics. A trip to Quetico made me realize that the land, which I saw as a source of enjoyment and recreation, is at the very core of existence for Indigenous peoples. For them, it is the source of sustenance, healing, connection to ancestors, Mother Earth and life itself.

For those who are not familiar with Quetico, it is a provincial park located in Northern Ontario known for its backcountry canoeing. Miles of canoe routes, days or even weeks and months of undisturbed paddling. It is described as a wilderness class park, which means the park is undeveloped except for a small campground in the north-east corner. There are no designated campsites or portages either, all in efforts to preserve its undisturbed wilderness.

Wilderness, of course, is such an important part of the North American mythology. Empty, uninhabited land. Man against nature. Getting away from civilization. Heroic and also not true. Because the land was never empty and uninhabited. Quetico is a great example of this artificially created wilderness. Anyone who bothers to read the park newsletter will learn that in order for the park to exist, the Sturgeon Lake Band had to be displaced out of the 24C reserve and forced to merge with Lac La Croix. The band living on reserve just south of Quetico eventually arrived at an agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources. They now manage the park together and Lac La Croix Band members use the land to hunt, fish, gather medicines and food, and perform sacred rituals.

Welcome message from Lac La Croix First Nation Leadership in the Quetico Provincial Park newsletter

Welcome message from Lac La Croix First Nation Leadership in the Quetico Provincial Park newsletter

Many parks feature displacement of Indigenous peoples as part of their history. During our recent visit to Point Pelee National Park, we found this information panel about Caldwell First Nation members being evicted from their homes to make way for the park.

information panel at Point Pelee

Information panel about the history of Point Pelee National Park

Ipperwash Provincial Park, which was eventually returned to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in 2007, became a site of a land dispute in 1995. The Ipperwash Crisis resulted in the death of Dudley George.

Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario’s oldest and most famous, is part of the unsettled land claim, which includes a large territory in eastern Ontario together with our nation’s capital. An agreement in principle was signed last year but the details are still being worked out. However, Algonquin’s visitor centre contains little information about Indigenous peoples. Apart from one display talking about Algonquin people of the past, there is no mention of Algonquin people of the present or the land claim itself. The only information I could find was buried in the park newsletter reassuring visitors that there will be no changes to their camping experiences. Because my right to recreation tramps Indigenous rights, right?

Information panel in Algonquin visitor centre

Information panel in Algonquin Park visitor centre

This post is not meant to accuse, blame or shame anyone. Nor am I attempting to speak for Indigenous people. They are more than capable to do it for themselves. It is more of an exploration of my own journey, my attempt to reconcile my need for nature experiences with the desire to stand in solidarity and support First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in their fight for their rights. I don’t have it figured out and I know there is still a long way to go. But I also know that unlearning the traditional history we’ve been taught and re-educating myself is the first step.

book, cup of tea and campfire

I am lucky to work in a place that puts an emphasis on this type of education, where staff are given access to Indigenous cultural safety training, where I get a chance to meet inspiring Indigenous leaders and elders, like Senator Murray Sinclair and Gloria Daybutch, and where these important conversations happen all the time – from our big annual conference to the office hallways and meeting rooms.

I’d much rather see the half a billion dollars that will be spent on Canada 150 celebrations this year go towards the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations or a national education campaign about the true history of our country. However, the conversations happening now around Canada 150 make me hopeful that in the next 150 years we may be able to fulfill the promise of the Two-Row Wampum Treaty.

Two-Row Wampum Treaty information panel at Wabano

Two-Row Wampum Treaty information panel at Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health

As for Canada Day itself, we will be spending it at Point Grondine Park, owned and operated by Wikwemikong First Nation. It is the first park on its kind in Ontario, hopefully the first of many.

If you are interested to learn more about Indigenous Peoples and Canada 150, here are some resources I found useful. And I would be interested to hear from others.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

Ontario First Nations Maps

Our Home on Native Land

Is Canada 150 a national party or a celebration of colonization?

#Resistance150: How some Indigenous people are countering Canada 150 celebrations with action

Ryan McMahon’s guide to decolonization: ‘Listen to us.’

Treaties, reconciliation and Indigenous history in Canada

How Indigenous people are rebranding Canada 150

If you are staying at Killarney over the weekend, make sure to check out this event:

Nation to Nation Treaty Relationships in Era of Reconciliation

7 thoughts on “Canada 150 and camping: Whose land are we on?

  1. Pingback: Canada 150 and camping: Whose land are we on? - The First Nations Canada

  2. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, insightful post. Something real. I too am aware of the conventions and expectations that state you shouldn’t talk about politics or anything meaningful on a blog about camping or traveling or anything else. I almost feel apologetic anytime I write about anything that’s actually important to me. So really, thank you for writing such an eloquent post on an important topic that you’ve obviously given much thought to. I hope that people will read it and become aware of the history behind the land that some take for granted as their place to recreate. And again, I appreciate you using your blog to showcase and discuss what’s important to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Meghan, for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate you taking time to read and respond. It is surprising how many outdoor groups will put a disclaimer: no politics. I understand that people want to take a break from everyday life and relax. There is nothing wrong with that. But the issue of land ownership is never outside of politics, especially here in North America. So I believe it is important to know the history of our country and recognize the injustices, otherwise we will never be able to build a stronger and better one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We suffer from severe historic blindness here too so I hope that quite a few more people take the same attitude as you do to Canada’s past. I don’t think a country can grow up properly until it looks back with a clear eye.


    • I completely agree. There is a strong sentiment that all this history is in the past and why don’t we just move on. But how can we move on, if the impact of the past is still very much present today and the injustices inflicted upon Indigenous peoples in North America still continue. For instance, one in five First Nation communities don’t have access to clean drinking water. In a water rich country like Canada, that’s shameful. And that is just one example of many. Canada is a good country in many ways but, as you point out, it can’t grow until we collectively recognize and address the injustices and inequalities that exist here. Thank you for reading and commenting.


    • Thank you for taking time to read, comment and also for sharing it on Twitter. It is something I have been thinking about for a long time. There is a lot of learning and work ahead but it has to start somewhere.


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