High Park’s rare oak savannahs, with their widely spaced oak trees, tall prairie grasses and wildflowers are not just sites of scientific and natural interest. Oak savannahs are transitional ecologies that depend on fire for their regeneration. Indigenous people used fire to sculpt and maintain these lands for millennia before colonization.
These oak savannahs lie within the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, a treaty made by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinaabe Nations to share in the care of these prime hunting and foraging grounds.
Oak savannahs are sacred lands that have been and continue to be sites of subsistence, sovereignty, and ceremony for Indigenous peoples. The remnants of oak savannahs scattered throughout Toronto today are perhaps the most visible and lasting monuments to Indigenous legacies on these lands. Indeed the endurance of these lands attest to Indigenous stewardship over thousands of years.
The restoration of oak savannahs currently falls under the mandate of the City’s Urban Forestry team. A group of Indigenous Elders and community leaders have come together to form an advisory circle to begin discussions with the City about Indigenous engagement in oak savannah restoration. This group imagines a future where Indigenous people take leadership in land stewardship around the city, so that they can restore their relations, pass on their traditional teachings, and engage in ceremony to heal the lands.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and the Inquiry into MMIWG insist that Indigenous people’s access to land-based teachings is essential to healing from the ongoing trauma of colonization. It is time for the City to take the lead and act on its commitments to the recommendations of the TRC and create opportunities for Indigenous leadership in land care in Toronto.
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