Non- Native Fights for Benny Forest
May 14, 2015
A Cartier resident, Dr. Barbara Ronson McNichol, is fighting to protect the trees in the area of her husband Clyde McNichol’s ancestral home, Benny, and current business, Camp Eagle Nest, from lumbering giant Eacom. She will be holding a press conference along with supporters in Benny Friday at 12 noon.
Barbara is very concerned about the lives of the trees, animals and plants as well as those of the children growing up in the area. Clyde’s band, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (Whitefish Lake First Nation) and many local residents have voiced their concerns but these have fallen on deaf ears, she says. “Native people’s lives have been so damaged by non-consensual resource extraction over the centuries, and now all people’s lives are equally threatened when passionate determined local groups like the Geneva Lake Cottage Owners Association get nowhere with MNRF or Eacom or even the Ministry of the Environment,” she says.
A letter from a lawyer acting for Clyde written April 22nd and Chief Miller’s latest letter of April 24th to MNRF requesting a halt to logging on both sides of the highway until parties consult have been ignored. MNRF has still not offered any times to meet, but instead have gone forward full speed with operations in the area. MNRF representative Rick Reynen told Chief Miller on April 23rd by phone that the access road on the west side of the highway would not be resumed before further discussion took place between the parties involved. However, Eacom went ahead and finished the access road shortly thereafter regardless.
Barbara is very disturbed that Canada continues to treat Native people and the forests so disrespectfully. She is also concerned about the well being of children when families cannot make a home that lasts more than a generation at most, when developers and employers have no long term personal interest in or connection to the land.
She has written to her local politicians about the matter and collected hundreds of signatures locally and globally through the Care2 internet environmental petition site. She has also gained support and interest through social media. Clyde and Barbara have produced and shared several slide shows and videos so far, the first showing some of the mature red and white pines and other species they are trying to protect; another showing some of the valuable traditional medicines in the area as identified by Medicine Man Tom Isaac; a third showing the daily ongoing destruction by Eacom close to Benny; and one showing recent tepee construction activities of Camp Eagle Nest. She has just learned that MPP France Gelinas has offered to meet when she comes home from Toronto next week, but Barbara is worried that there will no longer be many trees in that area of Benny to protect by then.
Medicinal plants in the area include Labrador tea, princess pine, swampy iron wood, sweet grass, sage, wild ginger, wintergreen, and cedar. Deer, moose, rabbits, beaver, bear, fox, and porcupine have homes in the area, as do eagles, cranes, brown and speckled trout, walleye, and many other species. The area includes old growth forest, which supports Species at Risk including: Blanding’s Turtle, Common Nighthawk, Barn Swallow, Canada Warbler, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Whip-poor-will and Chimney Swift. These are species that the MNRF routinely identifies to mining companies in the area as requiring legal protection. However, when it comes to forestry, MNRF is permitting logging to destroy this old growth habitat, including red and white pine, and the species that it supports.
Clyde McNichol -President, Camp Eagle Nest
Rick Comeau, President, Geneva Lake Cottage Owners Association,
Heather Parker, Geneva Lake Resident
https://youtu.be/mYrcVKNl8Bs – Benny Forest
https://youtu.be/uBNvc3Ws2KA – Medicines in the Benny Forest
https://youtu.be/dks_FlCyXmU – Tepee teaching camp
https://youtu.be/q1kxeZR3E4E – Destruction in the Benny Forest
Barbara is of mixed mainly European ancestry including French, Scottish, British, Swiss and German, with some branches in North America since the 1600’s and in Ontario before 1800. She was born in Tennessee, her mother’s home state, and grew up mostly in Toronto, her father’s home town. Originally a high school teacher specializing in English and History (Queen’s University B.A. Hon, 1978, B.Ed. 1979), she completed a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Toronto in 1994 (Program Evaluation and Child Development). She has since worked mainly in research and project management (Centre for Health Promotion,1998-2005 and Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives/ Aboriginal Studies, University of Toronto, 2007-2012). She also studied and worked in organizational and community development with Quantum Solutions Canada for four years, 1994-1998. She has won awards for starting a volunteer program for the Toronto Parents of Multiple Births Association, and for founding and co-chairing the Ontario Healthy Schools Coalition for many years. She had a lead role in a number of successful community development projects including the Newmarket Youth Health & Active Living project, a Ukraine-Canada Youth for Health project (CIDA funded, CSIH managed), and an East York /East Toronto early years project. She co-founded a “Seniors’ Aboriginal Literacy Project” with Dr. Eileen Antone in 2008 enabling Native seniors to go to First Nations School of Toronto and Eastview Jr. Public School regularaly to help children learn to read using books by Aboriginal authors and illustrators. She also helped run bingos and other fund-raisers to support the project. Teachers reported that their class scored at grade level in reading for the first time during the three years this program was in operation. In Sudbury she helped the Salvation Army Community and Family Services surpass their fundraising goals during their Christmas Kettle Campaigns of 2013 and 2014.
Barbara has taught at the high school (Great Lakes College of Toronto, 1979-1983), adult education (Board of Education for the City of North York and Robertson Human Assets) and university levels (Acadia University School of Education, 2005-2008). She is an accomplished and published researcher and writer. She married Clyde in 2007 and moved to Cartier from Toronto with him in 2012. Her love of the outdoors grew mainly at a family cottage on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas, and through camp counseling and canoe tripping leadership positions at Glen Bernard Camp and Camp Outlook. She is the proud mother of three young women who are now establishing their own careers across the country.
Clyde graduated from Chelmsford Valley District Composite School excelling in hockey, track and field, and shop. After working for CP and other local employers for a time, he learned a wide range of skills through a Temp Agency in Toronto, and started several businesses of his own, at one time with six employees on a cleaning contract with The Hudson’s Bay. Clyde was known as a good listener who helped many people off the street. He worked in security and maintenance at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto for many years. He cared for a number of seniors until they passed away, and was known at the Wigwamen Seniors’ home as someone who was ready to help with odd jobs of any kind. He provided thoughtful leadership on the Board of several Native organizations as they were getting started. He worked in maintenance at a high school and arts centre in Nova Scotia. He helped run a children’s reading program with Native seniors and the University of Toronto for three years. In 2012 Clyde moved back home and helped launch Camp Eagle Nest, a non-profit youth camp based on Native culture and leadership, open to all, but ordinarily filled with at least half Native youth.
Clyde overcame many challenges through an open heart and mind and great effort. His parents, aunts and uncles provided good role models in many ways, working hard and keeping the family together. He learned his culture after leaving home from Elders he met in Toronto and on the pow wow trail. He found in his culture profound teachings and a way of being that restores pride and gives healing to Native people. He is an accomplished artist who earned a living making and selling his works of various kinds for several years. He learned to forgive his father who was sometimes violent after learning about the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered from after serving for four years in Europe with the Canadian Army during WWII. He learned to get along with and appreciate people of all colours while also becoming a strong advocate for his own people. He now uses these learnings to help others on their own learning journeys. He knows how to respond immediately and sensitively and effectively when people open up to him. His wide range of experience, his success in making his way through life on his own, his natural empathy, and deep spirituality, combine to provide a wellspring of healing potential for many people.
Clyde’s greatest impact is likely the many individuals he has touched or healed or just made to smile as Santa Claus at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, or as a friend. The little ones who sat on his knee during the annual Christmas parties later brought their children and grandchildren to do the same. Camp Eagle Nest camper evaluations have consistently been full of praise, and most return time and again or stay in touch through email and Facebook. Campers have helped raise funds for future camps, including three “Highway Clean-ups” in which they are sponsored to pick up litter along the roads and inland. At all of his camps, Elders are engaged to provide teachings and answer campers’ questions about culture and history or whatever they are wrestling with at home or school. Opportunities are provided for campers to come back to train to be camp or canoe trip leaders themselves. Clyde and the elders stay accessible to campers after they go home, at any time for any reason.
Clyde’s family is from a branch of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek that did not move to the present day reserve boundaries at the time of the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty negotiations. Instead, they integrated into settler society schools and jobs when they were no longer able to meet their needs traditional ways due to over hunting, fishing and trapping after the railway came through in 1886. They always understood that surveyors would come from Canada to set aside their hunting territory (as well as those of other family groupings) as a part of the reserve within approximately 20 mile radius from their home communities, but this has never happened. They also understood that profits from any resource extraction that they agreed to would be shared equitably, but this also did not happen for Clyde’s family, and only to a maximum of $4 per year per person for those who achieved “status” by moving onto the present day reserve boundaries. One of Clyde’s grandfathers, Thomas McNichol, built the first log cabin in Benny where previously traditional wigwams were used. Another grandfather, Joe Canard, was taken to live with relatives in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek as a young child by his parents, likely because they had contracted disease carried by newcomers, according to local Elder and former chief Art Petahtegoose. Mr. Canard later returned to Benny with his wife Ida Bejigwan, also of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, to raise their own large family, starting with Clyde’s mother Angela, their first born child. They often lived away from town on a trap line, partly in an effort to protect their children from going to residential schools. Clyde’s mother taught many of her younger brothers and sisters to read and write in English, according to his aunt, the late Kay Espaniel, who raised Clyde and his brothers after their parents passed away. Clyde’s father served in the Canadian army for four years in Europe during WWII before returning to start a family in Benny. The advent of snowmobiles led to poaching which destroyed his livelihood as a trapper. He then took jobs in forestry and with CP rail to support his growing family. Due to the need for most family members to find employment outside the village of Benny, the population has decreased, but some family members continue to live there seasonally or year-round. Camp Eagle Nest has a base camp on crown land in Benny. Native home owners in Benny did not pay rent or tax until last year when Domtar purportedly sold the land where homes stood to one of its contractors, Philip Martel. Clyde believes that the forestry companies never owned that land nor did they have any right to sell. The treaty allowed them to negotiate with the Native people who were living there for lumbering rights only. They were supposed to share profits with the Native peoples who retained title to the “land now occupied by them” in the words of the treaty.