THE GREAT NIAGARA ESCARPMENT Indigenous Cultural Map is a multimedia online resource containing stunning photography, captivating video, and contextual information that identifies important Indigenous historic, cultural, and natural world locations along more than 750 kilometres from Niagara Falls to the western region of Manitoulin Island. The site as currently displayed is a working prototype that was conceptualized, researched, designed, and engineered during an initial seed-funded phase as proof of concept and should not be considered comprehensive or complete. Nevertheless, in its current operational form, the platform reveals virtually unlimited research and educational possibilities and applications across a wide swath of Indigenous subject matter related to the Niagara Escarpment. Here is its provenance:
Under the guidance of Artistic Director Tim Johnson, with Executive Director Larry McDermott and Senior Advisor Deb Pella Keen, this remarkable resource was developed by Plenty Canada, an Indigenous charitable organization, in association with the Canadian Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (CCUNESCO), to explore how best to engage and include Indigenous peoples in the organization and activation of Biosphere Reserves within Canada. The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve is one of four Biosphere Reserves within Ontario. Each is mapped upon both traditional and historic Indigenous lands, however, little has been done to research, document, and integrate Indigenous land-based knowledge and experience, heritage sites, and areas that are important to the protection of biodiversity into the maps and materials that are used by UNESCO, First Nations, municipalities, educational systems, and other public agencies and organizations with connections to these areas.
As a result, from January to June 2017 Plenty Canada partnered with the Niagara Escarpment Commission to organize engagement meetings with Indigenous communities living within the Niagara Escarpment to explain the origins and objectives of UNESCO’s Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, and to assess interest and facilitate ideas for increasing Indigenous participation in the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve. Two meetings were held, the first at Six Nations Polytechnic in Six Nations of the Grand River and the second at the Bruce Peninsula National Park Visitor Centre in Tobermory. The consensus that emerged from these two meetings with Indigenous advisors supported Indigenous participation and prescribed that a “story-telling and mapping” project should be the first recommended pragmatic program developed to begin restoring Indigenous knowledge, visibility, and character to the Niagara Escarpment.
Acting upon this objective Plenty Canada proceeded to secure funds and implement a project to develop a prototype template for hosting information within a digital geographic mapping platform of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, inclusive of Manitoulin Island.
Cultural mapping is a concept and process used by organizations, including UNESCO, to describe a variety of research methods, techniques, and tools applied to the identification, description, and portrayal of tangible and intangible cultural resources and assets, including those of distinct populations, within select landscapes around the world. Within the context of the Niagara Escarpment, Plenty Canada worked with Indigenous advisors and a growing network of professional allies to document, celebrate, and safeguard important Indigenous heritage resources.
Cultural mapping is emerging as an exciting interdisciplinary field that is fully compliant with and supported by the multi-media capabilities of the Internet. As such, the interactive map of THE GREAT NIAGARA ESCARPMENT is layered upon the land featuring appropriate knowledge and histories of meaningful Indigenous locations to re-establish Indigenous experience and voice upon this ancient and special geologic formation.
The applications for this content-infused cultural map are significant across the entire Niagara Escarpment and World Biosphere network. From educational, natural resource, and land management organizations within First Nations, to provincial agencies like the Niagara Escarpment Commission, municipalities, and international agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting and preserving biologically and historically important regions, this Indigenous conceived and designed project (even in its current prototype phase) shows great promise in serving the objectives of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation ‘Calls To Action.’
THE GREAT NIAGARA ESCARPMENT Indigenous Cultural Map is supported by Ontario Arts Council, Aboriginal Languages Initiative of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Program of Canadian Heritage, Plenty Canada, and numerous volunteers whose efforts enabled the project to significantly exceed expectation and show great promise for future in-depth research phases.