SIX NATIONS – Six Nations of the Grand River reserve #40, contains the largest stand of Carolinian forest in Ontario. But does anybody care? If not, they should, because what we take for granted today, may be gone tomorrow.
This is a fact born witness to by Google Earth images of the southwestern Ontario region, which shows a distinctive green parch in the middle of a landscape of farmers’ fields along the meandering path of the Grand River. That patch is Six Nations.
What is a Carolinian forest anyway and why are they so important to nourish and preserve?
As many of us know, all life is interconnected and carefully balanced by the Creator — or natural selection, depending on your worldview.
But for Indigenous people, like indigenous species of plant life, encroachment from outside environments and imported life forms and the diseases they bring have decimated the indigenous and exterminated countless life forms that have existed in this place since the beginning of time.
To better understand what a Carolinian forest is, we go to 1629, when King Charles I gave Sir Robert Heath, friend and attorney general at the time, the southern portions of America calling it the Province of Carolana (land of Charles). That word was corrupted to what we know today as, Carolina. Not the state, the entire region.
In 1859, J.G. Cooper used the term Carolinian to describe a forest region running in a strip along the Atlantic coast from southern Long Island to Georgia.
In 1892, J.A. Allen used Carolinian for a faunal region stretching from the Carolinas to New Jersey and west to South Dakota and Oklahoma. Southern Ontario was excluded because they were doing an American study only.
Canadian researchers Macoun and Malte used the term Carolinian to identify the vegetation in southern Ontario bounded by “a line running approximately from the northern shore of Lake Ontario to Windsor”. They characterized the vegetation as “the Hickories (six species), the Oaks (10 species), the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), the Chestnut (Castanea dentata), and the Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Less abundant and more local in their distribution are: Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata), Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), which have all beautiful and very conspicuous flowers, Papaw (Asimina triloba), Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), American Crab Apple (Pyrus coronaria), Sour Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), Sassafras (Sassafras variifolium) and others,” according to Chris Wood on his website The Tyee News, Culture, solutions thetyee.ca
Non-indigenous environmentalists are also lamenting the slow death of the Carolinian Forest.
“Carolinian forest is characterized by a predominance of deciduous, or broad-leafed, tree species. Although only approximately one per cent of Canada falls within the Carolinian Life Zone, more species of plants and animals are found here than anywhere else in Canada. Over 2200 species of plants are found within the Carolinian zone in Canada,” According to Ruthvan Park Nature Blog.
Long ago most of this richly forested area was turned into farmland or, in the last half-century, housing especially since Ontario got away with its non-consulted, and strangely uncontested, “Places to Grow Act”, which sent developers to this very area to clear-cut and build more, and more, along the Haldimand Tract, in the Grand River Valley.
Less than 15 per cent of the Carolinian’s former extent from Carolina to Toronto, remains, and most of that is here at Six Nations, that little green postage stamp on the google map.
If there is not a practical reason to save and preserve the indigenous plant life, there should be a deeper, more spiritual reason to do so.
Clear-cutting large sprawls of indigenous trees should be more closely monitored, especially when it takes place at Six Nations. It should be much harder to cut down large stands of trees, even if they are determined to be “scrub” trees and not “money trees”, as they say.
That does not mean that every tree currently growing here comes from indigenous stock. Regrowths of non-indigenous trees and plants have filled in areas removed by earlier generations for the building of Six Nations and Ohsweken. There was also the pilfered stands of trees cut and hauled away from Six Nations for white man’s purpose, without compensation of care.
Either way, gone is still gone, but what is left should be protected like the treasures they are. Planting indigenous flora and fauna wherever you can in landscaping would help preserve the natural balance.
When it comes to the natural habitat of both indigenous plants and people, both should be firmly and actively protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.