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 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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Gros Morne: a spiritual experience of apology and gratitude to the earth

Gros Morne National Park: a spiritual experience around every corner

I must see the mantle of the earth before I can rest. Going to Gros Morne always feels like pilgrimage. I need to go to the Tabletop, study it, touch the crinkled surface of the rock and just wait. The rock itself feels grainy-raw and looks wrinkled. Mother Earth without her makeup on.

The formation gives rise to a kind of dragon-spine all along the Northern Peninsula.  Some of the oldest rock on the planet, it has managed to stay surface-bound in the shifting, folding, molding of the earth’s crust. Nothing but the very toughest and most slow-growing of life exists on Tabletop rock because it is chock full of minerals and chemicals that make colonization of rock and soil almost impossible. The tiniest of trees, hundreds of years old, take root between rocks. They are so easily and willfully trampled by tourists who make rock cairns along the path despite explicit pleas from the Park not to because of the ecosystem’s ancient fragility.

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I need to touch Her for two reasons. First, I just pause to consider the near impossibility of being alive at this moment in time, part of a species that has existed for only 300,000 years. Energy from the gold rock reminds me to reflect, simply because I can. I am life consciously reflecting on 500 million years of planetary life. Second, I apologize to Her. Green Point may mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, but we are now living in what scientists call the Anthropocene era. “Anthro” simply is a fancy word for “human-ish.” Humans have so affected the air, land and water with our need to project heat, garbage and chemicals into and onto our planet that we are now creating our own geological time-mark. It can be measured in the earth’s crust for all of time. So, I apologize to Her and vow to do a little better in my own life and sphere of communication. The apology is part of my passion for Parks as preserved space for nature, the people of Canada and the inhabitants of the greater world. When I leave I am sustained by the knowledge that the earth is resilient. On the Tabletops I can see, smell and feel 500 million years of persistent existence under my feet. Humankind may not live another 100,000 years, but the Tabletops will still be there.

Another place of deep reflection and peace is the ocean shoreline. There are a couple of lovely shoreline trails. One of the most wonderful spiritual experiences we have had occurred this summer. During our honeymoon, we wanted to camp by the shoreline at Green Point campground, but were not able to. For over 30 years we aspired to spend a couple of nights there. Arriving around Noon this summer, we despaired of finding a site, but was astonished to find the one site we had always dreamed of camping on vacant. Those nights were some of the most beautiful we have ever spent camping. Behind us, the waves made their endless, eternal heartbeat on our doorstep. At night, as the sun set and the moon levitated, we observed people moving to the shore, clutching cups of warm liquid. They would often talk as they walked.  A curious thing happened during the final setting of the sun. The people became silent. It was not just about the gorgeousness of the moment.

The death of the sun amongst the salty, wet heartbeat of the earth, reaches deep inside of you. The moon brings hope of luminous resurrection, but still, it is never really enough.  There is some part of you that knows the death of the sun is but an echo of your own. And so, conversation stops, tea remains un-sipped and gratitude for life itself floats, if only for a brief visit, within you and among your companion strangers.