Sitting Outside With Two Rabbits

Last night was dark but not so cold for a mid-February night in downtown Toronto’s Annex neighborhood. Me sitting with two brown rabbits running around me perhaps looking for something to have for supper. Thinking this is the Chinese Year of The Rabbit and here they are living somewhere close to the building I live in. There are skunks in our garbage cans and raccoons, possums, rats, even squirrels and lots of birds who live here too. We’re all living in Indian Country.

What else can I say. I remember my chiefs and clan mothers telling me this city used to be rich and full of forests. Trees that had canopies that would cover the top of forests for miles and miles. There are falcons and hawks living everywhere in our neighborhood. Just south of our street we watched coyotes cross Bloor Street in the early morning. Looking tired, thin, hungry, exhausted but still walking.

Sitting outside with the rabbits running around me playing made me think: what happened to this country?
Once so manifested in a natural world of deep hidden places of secluded rocks, sand, woodlands, wetlands, green lush patches of tall grass. Homes to fox lynx, deer, wolf. An endless family of four legged, winged ones, fish life and insects free and happy. Pure as the rivers and Great Lakes surrounding. Ontario has one of the largest body of freshwater in the entire world. Scientist and environmentalists agree. Only the richest places on planet Earth compare to Ontario. Mother Earth, home to many Indigenous tribes and nations who understand this country and the ecosystems that nurture all of Creation. Flowering and breathing life into life through their life.Danny Beaton, Sierra Club Ontario

Ontario was not just rich in trees and forest but berries of every kind. The native people called the strawberry the leader of the berries. Then came raspberry, cranberry, blueberry ,blackberry, cherries, currants, huckleberries, gooseberries, buffalo berries. Mother Earth gave her children an abundance of medicines. Through the berries healing was attainable. Mushrooms were a source of diet for Indigenous people of the North Eastern Woodland. Slippery jacks, saffron, puffballs, cornflower, orange peel fungus, and hen of the woods were in full supply around the Great Lakes Region.

It seems like a dream thinking how many cities have paved over life. Species that are so sacred and interconnected with all life in the North Eastern Woodlands of Ontario. The rivers and streams that ran fresh and clean are paved over with asphalt and concrete now. When I think of the last 30 years how our Elders came to Queens Park to speak to the public and Toronto. How sacred everything is here on Mother Earth and that it all must be protected and saved for our Seven Generations to come. The old Elders were so adamant on their message to the world and Ontario. They said this was passed onto them from their ancestors.

It seems like a dream thinking back 30 years ago when many old Elders were still with us: Ann Jock, Chief Richard Maracle, Chief Jake Thomas Cayuga Six Nations Haudenosaunee, Aussie Statts, Vern Harper, Chief Albert Saddleman, Gladys Kidd, Mildred Redman, and Wilmer Nadjiwon. So many Indigenous Elders have given their messages over and over at The Legislation Steps at Queens Park. There was great respect when the GreenBelt of Ontario was created for the preservation of wetlands, forests, rivers and Great Lakes.

All we need to do is close our eyes and imagine how negative our country has gotten or the world as our old Elders would say. Just look out the window. “Everything looks normal,” Alice Gibson would say “but it’s not normal that they are doing in other countries and right here. Danny, it’s scary when I think of it.”

In 1991 Charlotte Black Elk from the Great Lakota Nation came to Queens Park to say her people were trying to regain their Sacred Black Hills – still. Charlotte said “all of Creation has a right to play and be happy in context with all the colours and sounds of harmony of The Great Spirits Creation.”

Sappa Flemming attended this gathering of Indigenous people to show support for Mother Earth. Sappa was Inuit and the Major of Kurijuaraapik Northern Quebec Territory.

Cree Elder John Petaumskum and Cree environmentalist David Masty detailed Hydro Quebec’s plans to disrupt their hunting grounds through flooding for massive hydro dams in North Quebec. David Masty compared the plight of his people defending the caribou to the 19th century efforts of the Lakota Sioux recently celebrated in the film Dances With Wolves. To safeguard the lands of the buffalo, Masty said, “the slaughter of the buffalo represents the drowning of 10,000 caribou in 1984 from the first phase of the James Bay Hydro Project.” Chief Masty explained creating lakes where there were no lakes, contaminating rivers, displacing Indigenous people, and destroying the habitat of all species is a desecration of the Creator’s Creation!

Father Thomas Berry described, “how can we claim to love our children when we condemn them to live among our ruined remains of the world?” Tom described how planet Earth is the garden planet of the universe taking 15 billion years to produce the beauty we see around us. We can wipe this out in just a few decades. Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chief Oren Lyons compared the struggle of his people to the wolves’ struggle against extermination.

Then I think of how far my life has gone by since we started protesting at Queens Park only thirty years ago. These are great memories. Gathering up to speak for Mother Earth’s protection with our Elders, chiefs and Clan Mothers. Indigenous peoples have always worked with environmentalists and like-minded people.

When I sit outside at night with the rabbits it brings back the memory of my old Elders telling me why everything is connected and sacred.

Thank you all for listening.
Sincerely Danny Beaton
In memory of Alicja Rozanska