I’ve went camping twice this summer and stayed at three Provincial Parks in Ontario as part of that experience. I’ve been thinking a lot about the complicated nature behind the parks system, the dispossession of Indigenous people from parks and the lack of acknowledgement of the traditional usage of the land by Parks. None of the parks I visited this year had signage about the history of the park or about the park’s relationship to the local Indigenous communities.
Last year I visited Pukaskwa Nation Park. It is the only Park I’ve visited to date that is actively working with the local First Nation community to reinterpret the site and to include a discussion of the community’s history on the land. Pukaskwa’s staff included an Indigenous Cultural Interpreter – who was from Pic River First Nation, the local First Nation community that was impacted by the creation of Pukaskwa. The were also in the process of creating an Anishinaabe Camp for cultural programming and the “Bimose Kinoomagewanan” trail signage was created by local elders and youth from Pic River.
Pukaskwa serves as one example of parks addressing their problematic past. I would be interested in knowing of any other examples out there. As visitors what can settlers do to encourage more critical interpretation? As a first step speaking with the folks staffing the visitors centre and interpreters to ask them about what they know about the park’s history can help. If they don’t mention the traditional Indigenous territory of the land ask why. Ask them why there is no discussion of the land prior to the park being established and if there is any plans to change that. Talk with the people you are camping with – have those important conversations about land and history – even if it makes you or them uncomfortable.
For additional context I would suggest reading Anne Janhunen’s The Holiday Spirit Will Prevail’: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country‘ presentation and Robert Jago’s “Canada’s National Parks are Colonial Crime Scenes.”