Mohawk Environmentalist Speaks Out For Greenbelt


Unusual for the participants in the Ontario government’s 2015 Co-Ordinated Review of the Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan is the perspective of the Mohawk environmentalist, Danny Beaton. (Turtle Clan, Six Nations).

At the Caledon session on March 26th, Beaton took part in a panel with the Sierra Club representative Dan McDermott, Robin Garret, of the Greenbelt Foundation and myself. Here he stressed that all the prime agricultural land in Ontario should be protected from development. This would require a dramatic expansion of the Greenbelt. 

Beaton put forth an important question at the Caledon meeting. Here among an estimated five hundred participants, Beaton was the only native person present, and who presented a perspective based on his culture’s ancient sustainable and respecting connection with the land.

At the beginning of the consultation, Beaton asked what special vehicles were there for natives to be engaged in the review. He also stressed that these efforts should not be limited to band councils, but also engage natives in cities who are not affiliated with these structures.

In response to Beaton the chair of the panel in charge of developing recommendations for the Co-ordinated review David Crombie responded that such consultations although not yet launched will happen. However, so far there is nothing printed about this, or on government websites. No public meetings have been announced, even in the Indian Act bands with reservation lands within the Greenbelt and Growth Plan’s existing limits. Nor in the voluminous material presented at the tables on the Greenbelt Review is there anything written from the perspective of Iroquoian and Objiway communities.

Beaton is in an excellent position to serve as a native voice for respect for the land, water and the wildlife that depends upon it going into the Co-Ordinated Review. He has been an environmental activist for over thirty years, leading successful campaigns against the Dufferin County mega-quarry and the proposed “Dump Site 41" landfill on top of the world’s purest drinking water.

It is not in his great victories however, that Beaton’s views need to be appreciated at this critical hour. What illustrates the importance of his outlook and the perspective of traditional native respect for the land and its creatures that he gives voice to, is one of his most catastrophic defeats.

For the past two years Beaton has been engaged in the struggle to save all of the 125 acres of the David Dunlap Forest. It had been until the recent Richmond Hill chipper massacre of fifty acres of the forest for luxury homes, the largest remaining intact forested area between the Oak Ridges Moraine and the City of Toronto.  This onslaught reminded Beaton of the wise words heard in the Longhouse from the environmental delegate of the Iroquois Confederacy, the late Cayuga environmentalist, Norman Jacobs.

(Aerial Dunlap Forest, Photo by Richmond Hill Naturalists)

In the Longhouse Jacobs, frequently aided by the words of the Confederacy’s legal counsel, Paul Williams, spoke about how if native rights detailed in treaties are not enforced they are simply ground into the dust. They explained that the rights to hunt and fish detailed in such sacred covenants as the Nanfan Treaty of 1701, mean nothing if the environment is so despoiled that no deer or other wildlife used for subsistence can live.

In the struggle to save the David Dunlap Forest, which although legally recognized as Provincially Significant under the Planning Act’s Provincial Policy Statement, (because of its large size in a heavily deforested area) Beaton saw the ugly reality of land use planning in Ontario. Since it is not protected by the Greenbelt the David Dunlap Forest can and ultimately was cut up for development on the basis of misleading “expert” studies by consultants. These claim an absurdity-that almost half of a large forest tract in a city can be cut up and destroyed without any reduction of its benefit to wildlife, watershed protection and air quality.

The destruction of the Dunlap Forest also ground into the dust sacred artifacts from native cultures that had inhabited the land for thousands of years. This was the conclusion of the archaeologist, Dana Poulton in her prepared Witness Statement on the issue for the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB) Tragically, Poulton was barred from presenting her Witness Statement to the OMB, based on a decision by a lawyer now facing a law suit, Virginia MacLaren.

(Forest Destruction at Dunlap, Photo by Mary Lou Bacher)

In her barred testimony, Poulton pointed out that since the forest towered over the area between the Oak Ridges Moraine and what is now the City of Toronto, it would have likely “been regarded as a sacred place by First Nations People.” Poulton also deplored how in 2009 some 366 mature trees were removed by a large backhoe on tracks under the guise of a “pedestrian survey of the field.” She found that this was contrary to Ministry of Culture guidelines which consider “tree removal to be a disturbance a potential impact to archaeological sites.”

To honour Beaton and the elders he gives voice to, it is important that all areas which are designated as Significant Forests in the high development pressure areas regulated through the Growth Plan be protected by their inclusion in the Greenbelt. To do otherwise would be to hold the sacred values of native people for the earth in contempt.


Written by: John Bacher

Blog header photo: Danny Beaton (second from right) beating a drum in front of David Dunlap Forest shortly before half of it was destroyed, By Tom Smarda.