By Colin Graf
SARNIA— The flags of the three First Nations of the region surrounding the town of Sarnia in southwestern Ontario now fly proudly and prominently alongside the waterfront trail along the St. Clair River where many visitors are daily.
The flags of the Aamjiwnaang First Nations, Kettle & Stony Point Chippewas, and Walpole Island (Bkejwanong) together represent the signatories of Crown Treaty 29, known as the Huron Tract.
Flag Square is a project organized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) committee in Sarnia and installed by city staff with the approval of city council, says committee chair Candace Young .
Young, a member of Kettle & Stony Point and professor at Lambton College, said the committee decided the facility was necessary because “we want to recognize these communities. Showing the city’s relationship with these communities is important. The idea came to the forefront of ideas the committee was considering after members noticed that the original Sarnia waterfront court, which flaunts the Canadian and provincial flags, had no First Nations representation.
The outer ring of the Flag Square features the Medicine Wheel which embodies the four directions, as well as the Father’s Heaven, Mother Earth, and the Spirit Tree; which symbolize all dimensions of health and cycles of life. This part was as important as the flags, says Young, because the medicine wheel “represents that balance between body, mind, spirit and emotion.”
While planning the plaza, committee members met with Elders from the three nations who were consulted to create a “culture map” and plaque containing information for the general public on Anishinabek culture, communities and local Indigenous peoples, the Huron Tract, Indigenous Culture Today, Anishinabe Language and Creation History, Young explains. The text of the card, which will be a paper document, and the plate, are in the final editing phase.
The culture map and plaque are intended as educational tools, as the UNDRIP committee wants to ensure that “education is at the forefront” of its work. The advisory body was established by city council in 2017 to help develop an implementation plan for the United Nations Declaration in the city. The committee, made up of members of the business and non-profit sectors, as well as city councilors and representatives of First Nations and friendship centers, drafted the city’s land recognition which is read before the meetings of the council, and is working on other projects, including a possible community summit meeting to help the settler public learn more about their First Nations neighbors, as well as the issue of racially targeted street names.
Young says conducting research for the place was instructive for her because she didn’t know much about Treaty 29 before. Learning about history led her to discover that the actual intent of the treaty was different from what many Canadians might expect.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that the spirit and intention of the treaty was to share the land, not to cede it,” she explains.
Landscaping using native plants from the Aamjiwnaang greenhouse will be installed, but likely not until next spring, Young says. An opening ceremony has been postponed to September due to COVID-19 pandemic regulations. She hopes to hold it in conjunction with Orange Shirt Day this month.