Capstone Team G: Applying the RAD Framework in Climate Informed Planning and Decision Making

This post was written to report the work of Capstone Team G, one of the teams of Park Leaders involved in the Winter 2021 Park Leaders Development Program

With the growing pressure of climate change, cultural and natural heritage sites in Canada’s parks and protected areas are facing continuously greater challenges. Parks leaders and stakeholders are having to problem solve on tight timelines, tighter budgets, and with the knowledge that many Canadians have a vested interest in the outcome of their decisions. Our capstone team was interested in understanding the challenges that come with making these decisions, and ways in which to simplify complex decision making processes.

Our interest began with wanting to explore both the natural and cultural impacts of climate change. Often, cultural landmarks are left out of the discussion when talking about the impacts of climate change on Canada’s landscape. However, valuable cultural sites, such as the centuries old Totem Pole stand at Haida Gwaii, are facing possible destruction as a direct result of rising sea levels. Important decisions are being made on whether or not to preserve these landmarks, and how to do so.

Our group was first inspired by the infographic created by Capstone Team A in the Fall 2020 CPCIL eResidency. Capstone Team A had created an infographic outlining climate-informed planning and decision making when responding to climate change in Canada’s parks and protected areas. Our goal was to further their study by focusing on one decision making tool to see how it would fare in climate-informed decision making. 

 

During the winter 2021 eResidency, we learned about the Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework for decision making. Published in December 2020, the RAD framework is a decision making tool created by the National Park Service. The decision maker has three options when approaching a problem: resist change, accept change, or direct change. The RAD framework lays out clear avenues of thought when making climate change-related decisions. Throughout the months that followed the eResidency, our team researched many decision making tools, however the RAD framework continued to prove the most relevant when approaching natural and cultural heritage.

 

With this in mind, and the permission of Capstone Team A, we decided to update their infographic to integrate the RAD framework and include cultural resources as well as natural resources. We found the RAD framework could be tested using real conservation case studies. We also found in our exploration of decision making tools, that while many tools exist, few are tailored specifically to climate change, and even fewer address climate change as it relates to natural and cultural heritage sites. This is an area where little work has been done. We think that expanding upon this topic will not only be of interest in the future, but necessary to preserve, or accept the loss of, Canada’s natural and cultural heritage landmarks.

Open .pdf of Infographic

 Decision making in Canada’s parks and protected areas will only get more complex with the increasing pressure of climate change. The infographic that we have created can contribute to park leadership by laying out a simple, yet effective method of working through difficult decisions. It also shows that these decisions do not need to be made in isolation. Many leaders across Canada are facing similar issues, and coming together to discuss seemingly impossible decisions will help foster a dialogue in which ideas can be shared, problems can be solved, and ultimately, responsible and tough decisions can be made.

 

Moving forward, we believe next steps could include:

  1. Sharing the updated graphic across the parks network via the CPCIL website 
  2. Our team sharing the infographic internally within our park organizations, and offering our cohort to do the same
  3. Future CPCIL Capstone groups looking further into case studies, and put this theory into practice with the help of site managers and stakeholders. Examples our team explored to determine the usefulness of decision making tools include:
  • The declining Woodland Caribou herd in Jasper National Park due to altered predator-prey dynamics, human disturbance, and habitat loss.
  • Rising sea levels impacting the existence of the totem poles in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
  • Other sensitive climate change impacted examples currently under review with various park agencies.

Capstone Team H: Engaging Youth Through Parks

The Winter 2021 Cohort of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program presented a unique challenge to all participants: connecting entirely in an online space during the peak of a global pandemic. This program typically presents plenty of challenges even when operating as usual: connecting with other park leaders from different parks organizations, all at different points in their careers, and with different worldviews and experiences. This year, none of our cohort ever got to meet each other in person!

How does a Capstone Team of four different people from four different parks organizations unite and find common interests? Fortunately for the Winter 2021 Capstone Team H, we were able to overcome the distance, time zones, and occasional technological issues to focus on one topic that we all care about: youth engagement in our parks and protected spaces.

In March of 2021 during our two-week eResidency, our group was thrown together and had to decide, through nothing but a series of creative team building activities and conversations, what we thought our Capstone Project might focus on. Our Capstone Team has representation from four different agencies: Parks Canada, Sépaq (Québec), Ontario Parks, and Alberta Parks. We spoke a lot about themes that were important to all of us: reciprocity (giving to and receiving value from parks); connecting (and reconnecting) people with parks and protected spaces; youth; and the inspiration we took from some of the amazing guest speakers we saw during the eResidency.

One common theme we were all able to identify from our individual journeys in Parks is that of youth involvement (or lack thereof) in parks and protected spaces. We all agreed that young people – whether they work for our organizations, recreate in our spaces, or just care about nature and the environment – are critical to informing the future direction of our organizations. We know that Canadian youth have valuable opinions about issues related to our parks and protected spaces, such as inclusion, diversity, accessibility, resource management, and visitation. We also know that youth have a desire to be involved in our organizations and spaces, but sometimes encounter barriers that deter them from engaging to the fullest.

From these conversations we developed our Capstone Team idea: a Youth Council for Parks. We developed a “poster” that summarized our vision and what we hoped a Youth Council could achieve.

While the idea of a pan-Canadian Youth Council for Parks’ agencies was appealing, we realized very quickly that the scope of this idea was far too broad for us to tackle over a few months. Our team engaged in several thought-provoking discussions which led us to narrow our focus to a project that kept the core values and purpose of our initial idea but was much more manageable for our timeframe. We developed the following goal statement: Things would be better if parks agencies had a tool to keep youth more engaged with Parks’ goals and values, allowing current, former, and future/prospective youth workers to connect with one another and with mentors or other park agencies, share thoughts and ideas, and participate in meaningful projects and dialogue.

Our Capstone Team had a number of personal observations and theories as to why youth may or may not engage fully with parks’ agencies, as well as many ideas about how to connect and engage youth further, but we wanted to hear these thoughts directly from young people. We finally settled on developing a survey which could be administered to youth to assess youth values, concerns, and ideas surrounding parks and protected areas. With a limited timeline to prepare, launch, and evaluate survey results, our team created a short survey of 11 questions and distributed the survey within our networks. The survey was conducted from July 16 – July 26 and was intended to provide baseline results showing general trends.

When the survey period closed and we got a chance to look at the results, we were blown away by the quality and depth of responses. Respondents generally validated a lot of the initial observations and ideas that our Capstone Team had proposed, but also revealed deeper understanding of park issues and a greater passion for parks than we might have expected.

Despite respondents having self-identified as avid users of parks both personally and professionally, several barriers to their continued or increased enjoyment of parks and protected areas were identified. These included distance and accessibility, cost, time, overcrowding, and mistreatment by visitors. Many respondents are seeking improved job opportunities, career continuity, and improved accessibility to parks and protected area systems. Most respondents also clearly indicated an interest in having more opportunities to engage with other youth in parks and connect about jobs, training, and diverse work experiences.

Though the initial results are limited and not statistically representative, Capstone Team H believes that a survey of this nature could and should be developed further and would be an excellent tool for the CPC, CPCIL, or other parks’ agencies to employ. The data that can be gathered from our youth workers and Canadian youth in general will be invaluable to the future direction of parks’ agencies and ensuring that parks remain an accessible place for all. The youth we surveyed demonstrated thoughtfulness in their responses and proved that the next generation of park leaders are already out there. The survey and resulting data can be utilized to support the development of a community of practice for youth to engage in park leadership, by offering an open safe space for dialogue, collaboration, and to encourage youth continuity and growth.

Capstone F: Pathways to Cultural Competency

This post was written to report the work of Capstone Team F, one of the teams of Park Leaders involved in the Winter 2021 Park Leaders Development Program

Team Members: Sarah Boyle, Brendan Buggeln, Megan Bull, Rachel Goldstein, Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Tobi Kiesewalter

The federal and provincial governments of Canada have made commitments to advance reconciliation and renew relationships with Indigenous peoples based on rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. The road towards reconciliation is inevitably complex and difficult, and should involve the participation of all Canadians, on both a personal and professional level.

Every park, marine protected area, and heritage site administered by a parks organization in Canada is located within the traditional and ancestral territory of Indigenous peoples. This creates both an opportunity and a responsibility for parks leaders to advance reconciliation and foster respectful and positive relationships with Indigenous partners and communities.

Capstone Team F acknowledged that many non-Indigenous conservation staff, including at senior levels, have limited knowledge about how to develop cultural competency. While many staff want to learn more, they are often unsure where to start or become overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of resources, especially those designed for staff already experienced in working with Indigenous partners. As high-level discussions of reconciliation within parks continue to advance, there is a risk that the knowledge ‘ceiling’ may leave the ‘floor’ behind unless appropriate tools are available to help all parks employees develop baseline cultural competencies.

Capstone Team F’s goal was to create a collection of reconciliation-focused resources which allowed learners to proceed at their own pace. The resources were curated to allow for a natural progression from foundational learning on Indigenous communities and the impacts of colonialism toward constructive action to advance truth and reconciliation. To achieve this, the Team developed a user- friendly resource package, comprised of a thematically-organized database of resources and a suite of 12 learning pathways, all of which feature an organized set of resources centred around a particular theme. Most pathways are designed for learners with limited background of Canada-Indigenous relations, and each lists a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Call to Action” which it aims to support.

The database and example pathways are by no means comprehensive, but provide a solid basis from which to begin a learning journey. The resource package may be used by supervisors to coordinate training sessions for staff (though it should never replace in-person training or the hiring of an Indigenous consultant), or it may be used by individual parks leaders for independent learning. The resource package is designed to develop cultural competency to help parks leaders advance reconciliation in their personal lives, in their professional relationships, and in their work. Above all, the resource package is intended to be a springboard for further learning, and to provide individual motivation for advancing reconciliation at a team, departmental or organizational level.

Recommendations for expanding the scope and increasing the impact of this work include:

Housing the database and learning pathways on a learning platform, such as the CPCIL website, where other users can continue to update the content

  • Testers, or site users, could provide feedback to help refine the tool, with the potential to add in a comment section or rating system so people can rate their experience with each resource as they use them.
  • The webpage would ideally be made publicly available, to make it accessible to a broader audience (e.g., teachers, municipal staff, health care workers).
  • Expansion of the database and pathways or the addition of other learning tools by future Capstone teams
  • A number of themes could continue to be explored and have pathways developed for them in the future, including but not limited to:
    • Northern cultural competency
    • Ethical Space
    • Environmental justice
    • Food sovereignty
    • Indigenous story and law
    • Status of women
    • Health
    • Language
    • Removing barriers to access
  • Some agencies, such as Parks Canada and the Federal Public Service, have invested significant resources towards creating in-depth learning websites and training resources, but these resources are not available publicly, even to other civil servants. Consideration should be given to options for providing access to these excellent resources to all civic servants, or the general public.

It is our hope that this Capstone project, and our recommendations for expanding the scope of the work, will contribute to existing efforts to advance understanding of Truth and Reconciliation in the public service. We have aimed to create a simple yet effective introduction to cultural competency, which may be useful to learners of all knowledge levels and spark motivation for a much deeper learning journey.

Resource Spotlight – SAR Autism Canada

Hyun Ho Cho is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Search and Rescue (SAR) situations are ones that no one wants to experience, yet these services are welcomed by those who find themselves in these unfortunate situations. But for some, SAR can add an additional level of distress that pushes them further from safety.

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Shanyn Silinski, the director of Search and Rescue Autism in Canada. SAR Autism is a program that plans and prepares resources for responders when it comes to people with autism in the context of search and rescue operations. According to Silinski, people with autism can present particular behaviours that may make search and rescue efforts uniquely challenging. Most agencies and organizations both in the private and public sectors may not consider neurodiverse people when it comes to planning infrastructure and services.

Having guided caving and backpacking trips in the mountain parks, I have experienced this capability gap firsthand. Neurodiverse people and how we respond to them is a perspective that I myself had never considered in regards to contingency planning and public safety. In order to make Parks more accessible and inclusive, it is important to have the necessary services and background resources to make the experience of these places safe for all. This means training public safety teams and responders on how to respond to members of our community who are neurodiverse and providing access to preventative education for people who are neurodiverse.

Normal Doesn't Exist

Going into the interview, I will admit my previous background knowledge on autism was somewhat limited. Unfortunately, this is quite common. The large majority of Canadians have a general idea of what autism is, without any actual knowledge of how autistic people perceive the world or how this might affect the way they respond to their environments. As a result, services that cater to neurodiverse people are less available across the board. Oftentimes in the context of parks, neurodiverse individuals and other minority groups are overlooked when it comes to policies and services. This includes public safety. However innocent this oversight may be, this affects many Canadians. When we look at the numbers this excludes quite a large segment of our population. According to Public Health Canada, an estimated 1 in 66 Canadian children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that’s just the kids. That means approximately 540,000 Canadian citizens may not have access to the services they need in our parks.

Neurodiversity: How Does it Work? Why Does it Matter?

Before my conversation with Shanyn, I didn’t really understand what the word “neurodiversity” meant. In preparation for the interview, like any good millennial, I googled it. Let’s start with a definition. Merriam Webster’s dictionary has 3 definitions of the term neurodiversity. They are as follows:

  1. Individual differences in brain functioning regarded as normal variations within the human population.
  2. The concept that differences in brain functioning within the human population are normal and that brain functioning that is not neurotypical should not be stigmatized.
  3. The inclusion in a group, organization, etc. of people with different types of brain functioning.

Because neurodiversity refers to the variations in brain functioning across the human population as a whole, it refers to a broad range of behaviours and responses that apply to us all at varying degrees – not just people with autism, or other behavioural conditions. Neurodiversity, then, is just as much a part of someone’s identity as their skin colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability.

If we are to make Canadian parks a more inclusive environment for all, it is imperative then that we make an effort to include individuals who are more neurodiverse, just as we would someone with a physical disability or a minority group. Individuals who are more neurodiverse should have services and amenities available to them on par with the rest of park users; parks leaders should not expect individuals who are more neurodiverse to adapt to our current park’s infrastructure. That may not always be possible. It means our parks or parts of them must change to accept and welcome these individuals.

What About Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development.  The result is that most individuals experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. They may also have a markedly restricted range of activities and interests.
Autism Canada

In our interview, Silinski spoke to how people with autism may perceive the world differently from those of us who are more neurotypical. Specifically, she spoke to how people with autism may require extremely detailed descriptions and instructions in order to complete a task or recognize a situation. For example, individuals with autism may not recognize what being lost looks like without being told specific characteristics of what being lost feels like. Consequently, they may wander even further from where they were last seen. 

Photo courtesy of C Valdez / Unsplash.com

Another example Silinski used was that of the “Hug a Tree” program for children, where individuals were instructed to hug a tree if they got lost. Where a neurotypical person might be able to read into the implied context of an instruction, an autistic person may not. Take, for example, the instruction “hug a tree if you’re lost.” Even without any further context, most people would be able to gather that the reason for this is so that they don’t wander, which makes it easier for responders to locate them. An autistic person, on the other hand, might instead fixate on what constitutes a huggable tree. In most situations, the implied meaning must be explicitly stated in order for them to fully understand the “why” of the instruction.

Additionally, individuals who have autism may bolt unexpectedly from unfamiliar situations or situations with too many stimuli. Oftentimes individuals with autism prefer familiar environments, objects, and people – in short, stimuli that they are accustomed to. This can be problematic in many rescue scenarios that have stimuli like flashing lights, bright colours, loud noises and hazards.

What Can Happen?

According to Silinski, because autistic individuals may respond differently to a crisis or an emergency situation, this can have a number of implications that responders may not be well trained to respond to. Oftentimes they retreat from rescuers or a safe location during a crisis, especially if it is unfamiliar or overstimulating. An example Silinski used was a building fire in the United States where everyone was evacuated safely from the building to a safe secondary holding area. However, one of the individuals who was rescued had autism. When transferred to the safe secondary holding area, they found it overwhelming and overstimulating and ran back to a familiar space, that space being the burning building.

Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador / Unsplash.com.

Instances like these are called secondary incidents and are easily preventable with training on how to recognize and respond to signs of autism. Oftentimes people with autism will try to return to a place that makes them feel safe or that is familiar to them, even if that place is more dangerous than where they currently are. To an average responder, this may not be common knowledge and thus they may not be able to respond accordingly. Additionally, without understanding how an individual with autism perceives and recognizes safety we cannot make them feel safe in a crisis or emergency.

Inclusion As a Solution

That’s where SAR Autism comes in. SAR Autism aims to educate people with autism and give them back ownership of their own outdoor experiences so that they can recognize and prevent emergency situations. Additionally, they run courses for agencies, responders and volunteers on how to respond when an autistic person is lost or in an emergency situation. For example, having a “first aid kit” for neurodiverse individuals with items that they can stimulate themselves with to feel more at ease once they are found, or search methods that are less overwhelming for neurodiverse individuals and people with autism. By educating people with autism on how to be more proactive about their safety outside and teaching them how to recognize certain situations, like how to recognize when they are lost or what a rescue looks like, SAR Autism can help increase the chances of a successful recovery on both ends of the rescue.

By making spaces inclusive and safe for autistic people we can actually make parks a safer and more inclusive space for all. Silinski posits that by making spaces feel safe and inclusive for people with autism, we also make those spaces inclusive for a diverse range of individuals. Quiet safe spaces can help people healing from trauma, newcomers who want a more authentic experience of their surroundings, and Indigenous peoples who want to reconnect with their traditional lands. In sum, by making these spaces more accessible it does a service to all, with minimal impact to the existing visitor experience.  

What other safety resources do you know of that help achieve inclusivity in parks? Let us know in the comments below!

Webinar Summary – Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People Webinar

Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) is an international initiative aimed at increasing the overall health and wellness of individuals through positive interactions with nature. The goal of HPHP, according to Ontario Parks, is to “use health to engage people with parks who may not be otherwise engaged and increase awareness of health benefits of parks with the overarching goal of improving health of Ontarians.” This webinar focused on evaluating the efficacy of HPHP as an initiative through community and stakeholder feedback and in situ surveying on parks premises.

Presenters

  • Anne Craig, Ontario Parks
  • Catherine Reining, Wilfred Laurier University

5 Key Takeaways

  1. After five years of the HPHP program being implemented by Ontario Parks, they held a large public consultation in 2019 with largely positive feedback.
  2. Some engagement and communication strategies of HPHP focused on signature events that links parks with health, such as days for free access to parks and challenges to spend time outside. HPHP-themed social campaigns, such as those around mental health, were some of the most popular topics.
  3. Some of the key barriers to accessing the benefits of HPHP include affordability, transportation, accessibility for diverse audiences, the need for more time, and the need for more green space and continued protection of green space.
  4. Research on the role parks and protected areas play in health promotion found that 95% of respondents felt visits to natural areas were important for improving wellbeing and health.
  5. Research found that high restorative outcomes were experienced by participants, irrespective of length of stay, and environment type is not a determining factor. However, the perceived quality of the environment experienced was important.

Webinar Summary – Parks Day: Past, Present, Future

Parks Day CPCIL Webinar

The first Parks day, back in 1990, was based on a paper commissioned by the Canadian Parks council which provided an opportunity for all public parks to participate in the celebration of parks and their role in natural and cultural heritage conservation in Canada, and to increase public awareness and support for parks. From here, Parks day emerged, and has changed throughout the years and looks different for different jurisdictions. This webinar explores these different contexts and perspectives of these jurisdictions.

Presenters

  • Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta
  • Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Nunavut Parks and Special Places, Qikiqtaaluk Region
  • Tobi Kiesewalter, Ontario Parks, Learning and Discovery Program
  • Michael Nadler, Parks Canada External Relations and Visitor Experience

5 Key Takeaways

  1. For Fish Creek Provincial Park, Parks Day is run by community volunteers so that it can involve a great number of people. Park isn’t merely a space, but rather becomes so because of the relationship people have with that place. 
  2. In Nunavut Parks, Parks Day is utilized as an opportunity to highlight the local cultures’ deep ties to the land and expand the outdoor classroom. For example, they showcase cultural activities like drum dancing, throat singing, tea and bannock, and fried fish.
  3. For Ontario Parks, the concept of Parks Day has melded with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement, however the spirit of Parks day is still present as a way to engage people with Parks who might have been otherwise uninterested
  4. Parks Days were collectively seen as an opportunity to host discussions about Reconciliation, equity, and how to keep these conversations and relationships going year round.
  5. All panelists connected with the element of human connection to the land. The future of Parks Day is seen as an opportunity for people to celebrate this connection and contribute to part of a broader national identity.

Reconciliation – Review of Elder in the Making

Cowboy and Chris at Ranch. Photo courtesy of Elder in the Making.

Ebany Carratt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Throughout writing my series of blog posts that takes into consideration the ideas around reconciliation and the awful histories of oppression Indigenous people have faced, I often worry that I, as a non-Indigenous person, am not doing enough or I don’t understand the full picture of what this process means. Yet, despite feeling frustrated by not knowing all the answers at once, I still feel strongly inspired and motivated to do what I can to push for progress and change in my society for generations that will come after me. One documentary series that has significantly helped me understand the history, but also learn the importance of protecting the land and advocating for justice, was the Elder in the Making series published in late 2015.

Chris and Cowboy on a Journey. Photo courtesy of Hidden Story Productions Ltd.

The series follows Chris Hsiung, a first-generation Chinese-Canadian, and Cowboy Smithx, a Blackfoot First Nation, on a spiritual journey throughout Alberta learning about the history of Treaty 7, reconciliation, and what it means to be an elder in Indigenous culture. While the similarities between these two may not seem apparent to someone from the outside looking in, Hsiung likens the experiences of the Blackfoot to that of his own by stating that “both have to navigate two cultures and two languages” and have faced similar tribulations and difficulties with reaffirming their identities within Canada as they’ve made their way through life. Yet, unlike Hsiung, Cowboy has had to deal with being seen as a “foreigner in his own land”.

Narcisse Blood - A Wise Elder. Photo courtesy of Elder in the Making.
Narcisse Blood - A Wise Elder. Photo courtesy of Hidden Story Productions Ltd.
Exploring the Path to Reconciliation

The film introduces us to many knowledgeable and well-spoken elders and those who we can consider ‘elders in the making’, including the late Narcisse Blood, a Blackfoot film director, teacher, and visionary. From speaking with these many insightful individuals, the viewers are able to explore what the path to reconciliation looks like and see the meaningful and respectful ways to maintain and protect the land for future generations. The best way this film beautifully expresses this need for protecting the land and empowering Indigenous cultures is by frequently using the past to paint a comprehensive image of how a treaty “signed in good faith” had fallen into a disaster within a few years.

St. Paul’s Residential School Gymnasium. Photo courtesy of Elder in the Making.
St. Paul’s Residential School Gymnasium. Photo courtesy of Hidden Story Productions Ltd.

Countless promises made by governments were broken. The buffalo, a keystone species and sacred to Indigenous people, were intentionally wiped from existence in the prairies and perpetuated a horrific famine and furthered the dependence on Industrialism for prairie tribes. Diseases such as measles, smallpox and mumps were introduced into Indigenous populations and catastrophic numbers of people, unthinkable today, were extinguished from North America. Patronizing laws such as The Indian Act, signed even before Treaty 7, show that early Canada treated First Nations people as wards of the state that needed to be civilized and assimilated. Our first prime minister, who approved residential schools, was motivated by the thought that Indigenous people who went to school on their land and practised their traditions, were nothing more than “a savage who can read and write”. All this, along with the banning of many other spiritual and ceremonial traditions that define peoples and cultures, had a genocidal effect that has devastated generations and will continue to do so without proper reconciliation.

A Call for Humanity

Yet despite all of this pain and horrific accounts of history, Elder in the Making does not lay blame. Instead, it calls for the better aspects of humanity. The empathetic side of humanity that puts themselves in the shoes of those who have been wronged to work together while protecting the land and all the entities that depend on it for a better tomorrow. This is what being an elder is about. According to Chris Hsiung: “It’s not about being Blackfoot or being Chinese. It’s that sense of being human and being able to connect with our humanity in a way that recognizes that we come from a long line of generations and that there are many more generations ahead of us that we have to take care of”.

I know personally from reading countless articles on this topic that I have often felt confused about where I stand as a non-Indigenous child of an immigrant. So seeing someone who comes from a similar background as I do learn what this means from elders and other elders in the making, has provided me with well-needed clarity moving forward. Reconciliation, just like a treaty, is an ongoing process that must be revisited and renewed time and time again. It is up to all of us, no matter our backgrounds, to make treaty with each other on the land which sustains us.

So I hope after reading this blog you will want to watch this wonderful documentary too! What other documentaries or resources have helped develop your understanding on reconciliation?

Reconciliation – A Review of ‘Ha Ling Peak’

Preview image of Ha Ling Peak documentary by Brian Zimmerman

By Ebany Carratt

Ebany Carratt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Growing up in Saskatchewan, I always had a strong appreciation for the Rockies. Every summer since I can remember, my family would make our yearly pilgrimage to the Banff area where my brothers and I would make a game of trying to accurately name every mountain that we could see outside of our car window. Approaching our stay in Canmore was always the best part and we’d frequently try to petition reasons to live there permanently to our parents, with little success. Nestled in a valley surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped limestone peaks, I always assumed Canmore was the perfect place to live. So I was shocked to learn in my early 20s that one of my favourite features, Ha Ling Peak, was not always called by that name.

Aerial view of Ha Ling, Canmore, Alberta.
Aerial view of Ha Ling. Photo by Wikimedia Commons User Kevin Lenz

According to the documentary ‘Ha Ling Peak’ by Bryce Zimmerman that aired on CBC in 2018, the story goes that a Canadian Pacific Railway cook named Ha Ling climbed the mountain in under 10 hours for a bet. Impressed by his abilities, the townspeople of Canmore decided to name the peak after him, but unfortunately, through time the mountain lost his given name and was simply referred to as “Chinaman’s Peak” well into the 1990s despite the term being a well-known racial slur. 

It took months for people like Roger Mah Poy, a long term resident and school teacher in Canmore, to publicly debate and educate people on why the name should be changed and how the term “chinaman” deprives Chinese people of their humanity, of their names. Looking to his children as a motivator for his activism, he said, “I want them to grow up in a world where it shouldn’t matter their racial background”.

It wasn’t easy to get public approval on changing the name, and even today, some still refer to the peak by the old name. The name change is something that I am personally glad happened, as I have never known the peak as anything other than Ha Ling Peak.

Reconciliation In Action

Not only did this documentary help me become more aware of what reconciliation looks like in action, but it also made me think more on the ways that names, especially when associated with places, hold so much political and historical power. It makes you question what power dynamics are at play when place naming occurs. Despite the success of renaming the peak to Ha Ling, it’s important to become aware that even before colonialism and before Ha Ling, Indigenous people had names for these places. They had emotional, traditional, and spiritual connections to those names that are unknown to people like me who only know one version of history.

Yet, through reconciling with the communities who have been harmed through exclusion and allowing them to play active roles in deciding what ways to reach reconciliation, we can change the narrative so that younger generations will know these histories naturally and understand the diverse world views that have existed before we settled here. Even Mah Poy said he approached the renaming of the peak with “ambivalence” because he was conscious of the fact that there was an Indigenous name for that peak, and a lovely story behind it. 

A Work in Progress

Despite the peak being renamed in 1997, many places within Alberta alone hold offensive, derogatory, or exclusionary names that Indigenous communities want to change. And while we’ve had some success especially in 2020 with the new naming of Upper Stoney Trail and Bald Eagle Peak, there is still much work to be done. For years the Stoney Nakoda people have been lobbying to change Tunnel Mountain to Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain (translation), with little success. We need to take this time to question the ways that supposedly inoffensive names (like tunnel mountain) or perceptions of nature/ethical place maintain a system of exclusion and inequality. 

View of the town of Canmore from the summit of Ha Ling. Photo by Bryce Zimmerman.
View of the town of Canmore from the summit of Ha Ling. Photo by Bryce Zimmerman.

It is my hope that through my series of blog posts exploring what reconciliation means through a consideration of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the Indigenous Circle of Experts Report (ICE), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC); that I can highlight the many different ways that we can achieve reconciliation by including Indigenous people, cultures, world views, and approaches to conserving the land into every aspect of national parks.