GBAY Founders with birchbark canoe & Etching winter bark. All photos © Delina Rice
You can find places like this all across Canada, supported by passionate grassroots organizations. One of them is the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere, situated in Anishinaabek territory. Designated by UNESCO in 2004, it stretches 200km along the eastern shore encompassing almost 350,000 hectares and represents a freshwater archipelago locally known as the 30,000 Islands.
Biosphere regions are recognized by UNESCO for being at the forefront of sustainable development. They blend biodiversity protection with education, cultural revitalization with livelihood opportunities, and experiment with new ways of balancing peoples’ needs with those of nature.
“We are deeply committed to helping communities thrive alongside healthy ecosystems,” says Dr. Becky Pollock, executive director of the Georgian Bay Biosphere charity. “As part of a world network, we are inspired to find local solutions and share them with others.”
Protecting threatened species and their habitat is a collaborative effort between Indigenous Knowledge and western science; both enrich and inform the other.
“Our commitment as an organization is to honour Treaties and walk a path of respect and learning with Indigenous peoples so we can reconcile with the land and with each other,” says Becky. “This principle is reflected in all of our work.”
Visit us and partner with us to be part of a more sustainable future. @GBayBiosphere
In 2018, Indigenous youth came to the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere charity looking for ways to create safe spaces and new opportunities in the Parry Sound area. They wanted to connect to their Anishinaabek culture through land-based learning. Together, they launched a birch bark canoe build with the help of Knowledge Holders and dozens of community members. They took many days harvesting, preparing, and creating Oshkinigig—the name of a beautiful vessel that the youth paddle and now use for teaching throughout their Territory.
By supporting each other, youth ages 12-29 have developed language revitalization programs, renewed their cultural practices, hosted ceremonies, and are re-learning food sovereignty. Activities are rooted in Anishinaabek ininemowin (cultural thought and philosophy) and are reaching others like them throughout the region. An organization led by and for youth has been born: the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY). It thrives with community support, project grants, and donations.
“Our communities face existing inequalities that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Kyla Zhowshkawabunokwe Judge, GBAY Programs Manager. “The youth we are trying to reach face multiple barriers and so GBAY creates peer-to-peer programs that are as inclusive and as accessible as possible—an act of decolonization that we want others to follow.”
GBAY has been able to reach hundreds of youth within the Georgian Bay Biosphere and across Turtle Island. “While we focus on our local communities,” says Kyla, “we see value in connecting Indigenous youth across Mother Earth.”
Follow us and see how Indigenous youth are shaping their future. @GBAnishinaabekYouth
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The Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere is a region of global ecological significance that makes an ongoing commitment to the United Nations to strive for sustainability.