Saba Ahmad is a Litigator working on environmental, administrative and commercial matters in Toronto. Learn more at www.sabaahmad.com
As Chair of Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, I am sometimes invited to speak at events.
On July 16, 2022, EBC had an opening ceremony for our new Heaven’s Gate wilderness preserve in the LaCloche Mountains, near Sudbury
I have reproduced my remarks below:
Good afternoon. Welcome. Thank you for being here today. My name is Saba Ahmad and I am the volunteer chair of EBC. I’m visiting here today from Dish with One Spoon territory where I live and work, in Toronto.
EBC is a charity. A land trust, founded by some of the people you see here today. Bob Barnett, our indefatigable Executive Director, founded EBC in 1997 (I’ll introduce him after our land acknowledgement) – together with Ted Cowan, our Treasurer – and I just want to point out a couple of other people. Dr. Roy Jeffery, is on the board. And I see a couple of new board members here – Jason Harlow and Beth Savan, who just joined EBC.
EBC protects land through Ontario’s land registry system. It’s a legal system set up to protect the private right to own land – to exclude others from the land, to build fences, and decide how the land will be used. EBC operates within this system. We buy land and then exclude the developers, the cottagers, the miners and the quarriers – in order to protect the trees, plants, and animals that depend on the land for their survival. Protection is step one. It is how we STOP the destruction of the beautiful wilderness we see around us here today.
Step two is to take care of the land once acquired – that’s stewardship.
This land is not a tourist attraction. It’s not a zoo or a park whose purpose is to amuse the people who find themselves here. It’s nature, which exists for nature’s sake. This land is also a sacred place. It is on the traditional territory of the Whitefish River first nation, who shared this land with us under the Robinson Huron treaty of 1850. The treaty was signed by Ogimaa James Wahbeg-a-kake or White Hawk, who reserved lands for his band, with the agreement. This land is known as Kichitwaa Shkwaandem, an Anishinaabeg name that literally translates to “heaven’s gate”, as I understand it.
Every piece of land that EBC acquires has a history. We must commit to learn that history to properly implement the truth and reconciliation commission report, which calls upon all Canadians to repudiate concepts such as the doctrine of discovery, which would disregard the First Nations use and stewardship of these lands as wasteful.
We must contrast the doctrine of discovery with the nation-to-nation spirit in the Two Row Wampum treaty of 1613, which recorded the original intent of European settlers and FNs to co-exist peacefully as equals and to cooperate with one another and not interfere in each others’ national affairs.
It is of some comfort that this land is treaty land. EBC commits to sharing the land with the Indigenous people who consider this their traditional territory. We are still learning how to best exemplify the spirit of the Two Row Wampum treaty, from within this system in which we operate. EBC aspires to protect land in a good way, in the spirit of cooperation and reconciliation.