Gros Morne National Park: acknowledging The Territory

 

As a country, Canada is just beginning to comes to grips with its responsibilities for and debts to the indigenous peoples within her borders. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed in relentless, horrifying detail, the treatment received by indigenous peoples through first-voice testimony and historic documentation (including the government’s own 200 year-plus cache of damning documents). You can find the report at trc.ca. I was one of the United Church “listeners” in the “Church Listening Tent” during the Halifax round of TRC gatherings. Our role was to offer a place of rest, nourishment and to simply listen, if that was asked for. We also had one of three apologies that we were to read if requested. Two were United Church apologies (1986 and 1998) and the other was the apology made by the Canadian Government in 2008. When I was not doing a shift in the tent, I explored the displays and listened to testimony. I remain shaken to my core.

I liken it to the experience of the German townspeople who lived next to concentration camps during the war, who were forced to parade through the camps by the Allies so they could fully appreciate the horrors of what they chose to ignore. What grew within me during that experience was, first and foremost, a deep gratitude and appreciation for the grace and resiliency of indigenous peoples as they agree to the reconciliation journey. Also, a personal and professional commitment began to grow to support the recommendations of the final TRC report which was accepted by all political parties. First among them, is a commitment to acknowledge the Treaty status of the land we live or travel on. That is why this page is part of this blog. This particular commitment proves to be complicated in the case of Newfoundland.

First of all, Newfoundland was a British Colony until the very late date of 1949. So, her “Canadian” history is relatively new. If the story of Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples contains tragedy and horror, Newfoundland’s story is particularly awful because it involves the true extinction of a distinct people, the Beothuk. The Newfoundland government website says:

            The Beothuk were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland. They were Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who once occupied most of the island. As a result of a complex mix of factors, the Beothuk became extinct in 1829 when  Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk, died in St. John’s.

Wikipedia is a little more detailed, stating that violent pressure from settlers and an influx of other aboriginal peoples combined with a lack of food sources, an explosion of infectious diseases and constant movement toward the interior land which could not sustain life.  Whether active and intentional genocide occurred is still greatly debated by academics. There can be no denial that there are some heartbreaking historical stories of the “hunting” of Beothuks.

The Mi’kmaw, originating from lands off island, have also traditionally travelled, hunted and gathered throughout Newfoundland island. Miawpukek is at Conne River. A community’s words about themselves are always most important and usually the most accurate. The following is an excerpt from their website (http://www.mfngov.ca/about-miawpukek/):

            Miawpukek is the traditional Mi’kmaw name for our community. “Miawpukek” is used   as the name of the community in most documents produced by Miawpukek First Nation Government. Documents produced elsewhere most often uses “Conne River”. The  name means “Middle River”.

Miawpukek became a permanent community sometime around 1822. Before 1822 it was one of many semi-permanent camping sites used by our people who were at the time still nomadic and traveling throughout our Mi’kmaq Domain of Newfoundland,  Labrador, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine.

Miawpukek Reserve was established according to traditional oral history in 1870. It was officially designated as Samiajij Miawpukek Indian Reserve under the Indian Act in 1987.  Most of our members, as of June 1985, are registered Indians. The ancestries of our community members include Mi’kmaq, Innu, Abenaki and European lines.

Our membership is 787 on-Reserve and 1779 off-Reserve. Our total population on Reserve as of August, 2006 is 867. (787 Native and (approx.) 80 non-Native).

Since being established as a reserve in 1987, Miawpukek has gone from a poor, isolated community with almost 90% unemployment to a strong vibrant community with nearly 100% full time/part-time employment. We are one of two of the fastest growing communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are often pointed to by Indian and Northern Affairs as a model community for other First Nations.

We are located on the south coast of the island part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. By land we are 224 km from the nearest service center, the international airport town of Gander. Our community is accessible by land, air and water.

 

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“Wave Sound” sculpture by Anishinabe artist Rebecca Belmore

 

Gros Morne: Gone fishin’ (by Carl Yates)

Not everyone likes fishing but those who like it, like it a lot.  It can be one of the most relaxing things to do, especially if the setting is right.  In my opinion, the setting is right at Baker’s Brook in Gros Morne.  Baker’s Brook is located north of Rocky Harbour and in strict Newfoundland terms it is a brook.  In other provinces in Canada, it would be called a river but in Newfoundland the term is reserved for the big flows that are at the base of many valleys.  Baker’s Brook is fed by Baker’s Pond which again in other jurisdictions would be assigned lake status.  You see a pattern here!  Baker’s Pond was once a fjiord open to the ocean but after the last glaciers retreated over 10,000 years ago, the earth’s crust rebounded and the fjiord got flushed with fresh water from the receding glaciers.  The brook is home to speckled brook trout and Atlantic salmon, the two most common freshwater fish on the island.  Both of these species have a desire to travel to the sea to feed and as result, grow bigger.  Baker’s Brook discharges to the ocean approximately 1 km from the main highway that goes through the park and is one of the better places that an angler can try his or her luck for salmon or trout.  First, the rules are in order; fishing licenses for both trout and salmon are required but you don’t need a guide if you are a Canadian citizen as the park is on federal land.  Although Baker’s Brook is an unscheduled salmon river, you still require a provincial salmon licence and a park licence if you wish to retain salmon.  In essence, you will have two sets of tags and if you are fortunate to land a grilse [a salmon less than 63 cm centimetres], you must insert and lock each of the two tags through the gills of the fish.  It is hoped that salmon will continue to make this ocean journey to ensure a sustainable run but our “friends in Greenland” may put an end to salmon if they continue to harvest salmon from the ocean as part of a commercial fishery.  The numbers are very clear here that recreational fishing brings a greater return on investment than commercial fishing which is why Newfoundland banned commercial fishing in the 70s [a very good move].  In addition to the economics, Atlantic salmon are an important aspect of indigenous culture and a source of food for thousands of years.

To speak directly to the angling, a beautiful pool exists just upstream from where Baker’s Brook flows into the sea.  It is meant for fly fishing with a steady current to ensure your wet fly trails nicely.  I have had the fortune to hook both salmon and sea trout.  The trout gets the “sea” designation if it makes the journey to the ocean to feed.  One can tell the trout is of the sea variety by its brilliant orange underbelly and its taste [sweetness].  The other interesting aspect of hooking a fish in the lower reaches of the brook is that the fish returns from the ocean with a full belly and an abundance of energy which means that the fish will put up a good fight when hooked.  Although I have landed salmon at this pool, I have lost many after a fish has leapt in the air to set itself free.  Even if you don’t catch a fish, the experience at Baker’s Brook is one of tranquility.  You have beautiful views of the mountains and coastline to the south where the Tablelands rise, a wide-open ocean to the west and immediate views of hikers dropping by along a beautiful coastal trail which I have walked many times with Linda and our Jack Russell terriers.  I have also had the pleasure of fishing this pool with my son Matthew, the fish biologist, who is even more enthralled with salmon fishing than myself, but not as much as my father who got us all hooked on this recreational past time. In addition to enjoying the recreational aspect of fishing, Matthew is finishing up his doctorate degree at Concordia University with objectives to ensure a sustainable approach to fishing for future generations.

camper at Green Point Gros Morne

Gros Morne National Park: lone woman camping trend

Some are adventurous. Some love nature. Some are sad.

We have noticed it before and I have a friend who does it. However, it would seem that women camping alone is a definite and popular trend. When we were camping at Green Point, every single campsite adjacent to us had women who were camping solo in them. The campsites were close and did not have a great deal of tree or bush cover so view-planes were unimpeded. Your neighbours are unavoidably observable.

One woman, about 40 or so pulled up in a kind of volkswagon-y  . She would arrive at the end of each of her two days, cook up a scoff, contemplate the world from the vantage point of the top of her picnic table and then retire to bed. She had a large dog that looked kind of like a labradoodle. One evening a man came over and hung about chatting with her. She did not look terribly comfortable and I wondered about wandering over just to join in so she, and he, would know she was not unsupported and he was not unobserved. He left before she went to bed, but he arrived bright and early the next morning in a car. Again, they conversed and I could tell she sent him on his reluctant way. I admired her so much because, among other things, she expertly began her mornings with outdoor yoga.

The person to our immediate right on our first night was in her thirties. She was dog-less and slept in a tiny tent. She too was gone for most of the day, then arrived at suppertime, cooked a one-pot scoff and retired to the beach with her tea. At dusk she returned, lit a small campfire and sat by it, musing. She stayed for a night.

The next tenant of that site was a woman in her thirties who pulled in with an SUV with a rectangular contraption on the top. Lots of web addresses and sayings were decaled onto the car. When she got out, the most well-behaved German Shepherd calmly exited too. He kept very close to her. She told him to stay put, which he did reluctantly. Worried, his eyes followed her as she made her way to where I was sitting. Would I mind, she asked, defending her site from campsite stealers? She explained that someone took her last site because her car was not in it and her tent is always with her so a person just claimed her last campsite as some kind of squatter’s rights. I sympathised. Green Point campground has a Darwinian survival-of-the-quickest system. There is no way of making reservations and there is no kiosk with a person in it to manage the sites. I could see how it could happen. You are supposed to put an “occupied” sign on your campsite marker, but there are never enough. She further explained that she does not carry food and she just hiked all day, 10 km, and was hungry. She and the dog had to go to Rocky Harbour to eat. She did not appear to carry any kind of food. She was very worried that someone not take her site, she repeated. In fact, she appeared anxious in a general, vibrating kind of way. The dog looked like he might get up and come over. She had her back to him, but must have felt his slight movement. She turned and motioned for him to sit. I thought quickly. I had no idea how long she would be and could not imagine personally fending off campsite thieves for the rest of the evening. I offered up our “occupied” sign. She could not seem to make eye contact. Grateful, she expressed thanks, ran off, placed the “occupied” sign on her campsite marker and sped off in her car. The dog sat upright in the seat, looked toward the road and settled in, like he had done this a thousand times.

On the back of her Subaru was a website address https://www.wandering-dog.com. I took a look. I found it fascinating reading. The blog chronicles the adventures of the service dog named Indiana. The feelings, thoughts and experiences of her person, Brittany, provide content. Brittany was sexually assaulted twice while serving in the US Navy and was diagnosed with PTSD. Four years ago, she was discharged on disability and has been travelling with Indiana ever since. Camping for four years! Her blog makes for some difficult reading. When she returned, I longed to get to know her a little more. But, connection is, as she says in various places in her blog, difficult for Brittany. It was getting dark when they returned from Rocky Harbour. She parked the car, reached up to the rectangular thing on the roof and adjusted some bits and pieces. Voila!  A ladder appeared and a tent erected itself. She and the dog climbed the ladder and we did not see them until the next morning when the tent and ladder process worked itself in reverse. Then, safely ensconced in the SUV, Indiana and Brittany departed for breakfast and parts unknown, forever.

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I have observed over the past couple of years that women who camp alone seem to have short stays. They like to hike. Many have dogs and most seem to cook their own food. Brittany, the only one I knew by name because she had a website, was the only one who does not deal with food. She also was the only one that was outwardly, seriously anxious.  There are various reasons women camp alone.  My friend, Janet Moulton loves the outdoors, is a confident, skilled and gregarious woman. I suspect she makes friends wherever she goes. Sometimes, she tells me, other women join her. I know another woman who is determined to do the entire Appalachian trail on her own. She too is confident, determined, tough and loves the outdoors, as well as the challenge of having a difficult goal. All the women I have encountered solo-camping in Parks, have another life to return to. Camping was a break, a time of renewal, a contrast from their ordinary life. It did not occur to me that someone would camp for four years and possibly many more. What, I pondered, is Brittany looking for? How will she know when she finds it? She is another person that will live in my prayer life for some time.

A final thought. It is interesting that I consider it an anomaly to observe more women camping alone. Yet, it also has to be said that it is unusual to find men camping alone in National Parks. What would I think about a man camping alone for four years with a dog? What would you think?

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