Four chiefs carefully laid out the wampum belt on a purple cloth in the pavilion in Springwater Provincial Park on Friday.
After years of negotiating with Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the two Beausoleil First Nation chiefs and two Anishinabek regional chiefs placed the wampum in a place of honour at the front table.
“The wampum belt represents the government and us. It represents all people and it’s a reminder that, instead of fighting, let’s work together,” said Deputy Grand Chief Glen Hare, a member of the Loon Clan.
“It is part of our culture, our teachings,” he added. “A lot of these things have come back to us now.”
Hare pointed to the front of the shelter where a traditional Beausoleil First Nation staff stood in the place of honour beside the regional eagle-feather leader stand representing 39 provincial First Nation territories, beside the flag of Ontario.
After prayers were said in Anishinaabe, more than 100 people gathered to be smudged, including Springwater Mayor Bill French, Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth, Barrie Coun. Rose Romita, several Ontario Provincial Police officers, as well as Scott Thomas of the MNRF.
Thomas worked tirelessly with the Beausoleil First Nation during the women’s occupation of the park from April 2, 2013 until December.
The women left the park once the province ensured the First Nation a deal would be worked out to share the park.
Beausoleil Chief Jeff Monague welcomed the visitors to what is now a partnership between the Beausoleil First Nation and Ontario Parks until 2019.
“We are now going forward, walking that path together for the first time in many, many years,” Monague said. “We want to build a better place for everyone in Ontario, where rights are given to indigenous people across the province.”
The five-year deal will allow Beausoleil staff to run the day-park under funding from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, with hopes of using the 12 kilometres of hiking trails, picnic facilities and playing fields to teach aboriginal ways.
When the MNRF closed the park gates in 2013, Springwater was home to 29 orphaned animals which were moved to an assortment of wildlife sanctuaries across Canada.
Of the other 10 parks the ministry changed to non-operational status — including Caliper Lake in Nestor Falls, Fushimi Lake in Hearst, Greenwater in Cochrane, Ivanhoe Lake in Foleyet, Mississagi in Elliot Lake, Obatanga near Wawa, Rene Brunelle in Kapuskasing, Tidewater in Moosonee and The Shoals in Chapleau — three parks were kept open by their municipalities, including Ivanhoe, Rene Brunelle and Fushimi.
French, who initially inherited the non-operational park when he became mayor, said he’s delighted to hear of the agreement.
“Welcome everyone to this sacred and precious land in the middle of our wonderful township,” French said.
After winning the mayoral seat last October, French became involved with park, insisting township staff plow the roads during winter and cut the grass in time for a recent powwow.
“I think, as a township, we should have taken more of a co-ordinating role in the discussions, but we didn’t,” he said. “But we will now.”
The Misty River drummers, six men in all, played the traditional, rhythmic flag song on a communal drum, singing in many voices which echoed across the park resounding above the loud thumps of the single drum.
Large tables were heaped with food for the reception following the grand opening, with plenty of food and room at the pavilion tables for all who attended.