'Tourist destination and a history lesson': 100 km Credit Valley Trail to encourage meaningful relationships with Indigenous people

·4 min read

Pursuing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples has continued to gain momentum in recent years.

More and more, people have become aware of just how little we know about our own country’s history.

From Lake Ontario to the Hills of Headwaters, a major piece that connects settler communities with Indigenous history is the Credit River, and by extension the Credit Valley watershed.

“This is our treaty land and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit,” explained Carolyn King, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation community member. “We have been on a campaign for a long time to be recognized and respected for who we are in this land.”

Members of Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) recently celebrated the unveiling of new wayfinding signs, marking the first major steps in its Credit Valley Trail (CVT) project.

King acts as chair of the CVT Indigenous Roundtable, providing leadership and guidance from various Indigenous communities on how their heritage and culture will be demonstrated through the trail.

“I have the opportunity and honour to be a part of the group to bring the Indigenous voice to the table,” she said. “They’ve been supportive to have Indigenous visuals put in place for us and to work as a team with First Nations and Métis.”

The idea for the Credit Valley Trail first appeared in 1956, just two years after the CVC was founded. The vision at that time was a driving route through the valley, combining recreational and educational experience for visiting motorists.

A new approach to the old idea was given life in 2015.

The project, which will still include education and recreation, seeks to connect 100 kilometres of trail space through the valley and along the river. So far, 32 kilometres are already complete.

“The trail is so many different things to so many different people,” said Deborah Martin-Downs, CAO of the CVC and a member of the CVT leadership council.

“It’s a green gym and a connection to nature; it’s a tourist destination and a history lesson. It’s an active transportation corridor and a protected natural legacy for our children and for the future of our community.”

While trails and parks throughout the Credit Valley have always been a draw for locals and visitors alike, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to even more people seeking an escape in nature.

“When people feel connected to the land, then they intrinsically value it and protect it,” said Martin-Downs. “They want to learn about its history, understand its culture, and help guide its future.”

History is a major component of the trail, and empowers Indigenous peoples to share their stories, values and knowledge.

“Knowing the land and its history will encourage residents to engage in respectful and meaningful relationships with Ingidenous people in the spirit of reconciliation,” added Martin-Downs.

Some of Canada’s earliest stories take place along the banks of the Credit, covering land included in 23 land agreements from the First Nations community.

With guidance provided by the Indigenous Roundtable, the CVT will act as a pathway to significant Indigenous experiences, including identifying cultural heritage sites.

Included on the CVT roundtable are representatives from Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Six Nations of the Grand River, the Huron-Wendat First Nation, the Credit River Métis council, and the Sacred Water Circle in Peterborough.

“This project feels like it’s inclusive,” King said. “They want us to be a part of it as best as we can.”

King has been involved in a major project, called the Moccasin Identifier, which seeks to raise awareness about Indigenous history and current affairs through an education program for the school system.

She often encounters people who do not know about the history of First Nations in Canada or locally. These individuals often express shock at not having been educated about the history or treaties of the land.

“The government has done the education system an injustice by not letting people know about who lived on the land before they got here and who still exist,” King said.

The Credit Valley Trail is a way for organizations to help elevate Indigenous voices to educate the public, create a stronger connection and bridge the gap between the First Nations and those who have settled in the land they once stewarded.

“I always say it takes a lot of people to change the world,” King said. “Credit Valley is taking part in that. Thank you for being part of the change in our world. It’s so great to be a part of this.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: The Credit Valley Trail will provide connectedness to communities across Ontario in many ways. With their involvement of Indigenous groups and a dedication to education and identification of First Nations history, the impact the trail will have on reconciliation could be tremendous.

Tabitha Wells/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Banner