Graham Mastersmith is the Senior Visual Arts and Photography Teacher at All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, and for the second year in a row his art students have teamed with Project of Heart — this time by remembering the students from Fort Smith IRS (Breyant Hall) in Nunavut, Chesterfield Inlet IRS in the North West Territories, and the Covenant of Holy Angels IRS in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
Graham’s students put their hearts and spirits into decorating tiles in the most innovative and creative ways. Archival photos of children and text from various historical documents were minimized and placed on the tiles, bringing to life the memories from the past.
Students at All Saints Catholic were also living the reality of incursions of development on the natural environment and sacred lands of the Algonquin people. The South March Highlands and Beaver Pond are treasured places for many of the students at All Saints. They allied themselves with the resistance shown by Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists to stop the decimation of these sanctuaries of biodiversity.
Below is Mastersmith’s letter to the The Nature Conservancy of Canada in support of the preservation of Beaver Pond and the South March Highlands in Kanata:
I am writing to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for help and as a final hope. I am a high school teacher in Kanata, Ontario. One of the courses I have the honour of teaching is Aboriginal Art and Culture. Through the contacts I’ve made in the course and the media, I have learned of the conflict over the development of the South March Highlands and an area known as the “Beaver Pond” which is quite close to our school. A Google search of this area will result in multiple articles and videos on this topic. My students have watched many of these videos and were greatly disturbed as was I, about the total lack of respect this developer has for the environment and the First Nations people of Canada.
The South March Highlands are comprised of 10 distinctive habitats similar to the Algonquin Park region. It is home to seventy-five different species of mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles, including the endangered Blanding’s turtle; one hundred and sixty-four species of birds; and six hundred and seventy-nine species of native plants, some extremely rare.
More importantly this land is considered to be sacred by the Algonquin people of the region. Aboriginal artifacts and stone medicine wheels have been found here that show evidence of pre-contact civilization. Grandfather William Commanda, the most senior Algonquin Elder, has stated that the area is sacred to his people, and has written letters to all levels of government urging protection of the land. Four First Nations groups, Chiefs, and Elders have also written similar letters of concern. Natives and non-Natives alike have called for a comprehensive archaeological assessment and meaningful consultations with Aboriginal peoples before any development proceeded.
Sadly this never happened and the First Nations people were ignored, as were the protests and petitions of the local community and several environmental groups. A sacred fire was lit in January of this year and a number of first Nations people chained themselves to trees in hopes of preventing the clear cutting. They were arrested and cutting has begun.
At this point there is a large swath of forest gone, with much more of the ridge slated for development. A new 4 lane road “The Terry Fox Extension” has also been created and it is only a matter of time before Kanata spreads all the way to the village of Carp and the Carp Ridge. My students have created artworks and taken photographs to document the plight of this forest. Some of these images have been attached.
I realize at this point it may be too late to save the Beaver Pond forest, but as a member of the Nature Conservancy of Canada I know it is your mandate to protect and preserve ecologically significant land for future generations. I have read about the thousands of acres of land you have saved and all the great work you have done in the past and continue to do. It is my hope that you might intervene and change the the fate of rest the South March Highlands and the Carp Ridge by buying and protecting whatever land you can, by whatever means possible, not only for the wildlife of this region but to honour the fact that this land is sacred to the First Nations people of Canada.
I have also attached some information regarding an event that is being held on September 10, 2011 to increase awareness of the immediate need to take action to save the rest of the South March Highlands. It would be a perfect time to introduce representatives from your organization to the leaders of the movement against further development of these lands.
I thank you in advance for your urgent attention to this matter. I have copied several people on this letter as that may provide better First Nations contacts.