Efforts to create a First Peoples Park in Gananoque have led to different people moving in different circles.
The two different circles, or groups, are at odds about how the project should proceed.
The Gananoque Indigenous Circle was created as a working group from town councillors, following a proposal from the separate First Peoples Circle of the Thousand Islands for a park to be designed, dedicated and named by the First Peoples Circle.
But many members of the First Peoples Circle believe the town’s circle is trying to disregard what they have created over the past five years.
The property for the proposed park is at the end of Stone Street South on the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River; it has been an objective spearheaded by the First Peoples Circle for a long time to be officially named as the First Peoples Park of the Thousand Islands.
“The circle has invited the town councillors to be a part of the circle which they never responded to,” said Jane Needles, adviser and member of the First Peoples Circle.
“It’s really unfortunate because the (First Peoples) Circle is expanding by leaps and bounds, more and more people are joining the circle because they realize what it is doing,” she added.
Early in September, the separate Gananoque Indigenous Circle, through the town council, reserved the lot at the end of Stone Street South for the proposed park so that it couldn’t be used for anything else, with the naming of the park to follow at a later time, explained Coun. Dennis O’Connor, who is the chairman of the Gananoque Circle.
“My mission was to make it as easy as possible going forward because going through policies and procedures at a municipal level is not an easy task,” he added.
He said that the town’s own circle was created for Indigenous community members to work together for the dedication of the park with the leadership of a town councillor.
Some of the process includes bringing the proposal to the town hall, finding funding and creating a design.
At the regular council meeting on Oct. 5, the First Peoples Circle prepared a motion to council asking them to dissolve the Gananoque Indigenous Circle and allow current members to join the First Peoples Circle that has been around for many years, but the council didn’t read the motion. O’Connor said he didn’t know why the motion wasn’t read.
However, O’Connor said the Gananoque Indigenous Circle will continue to be involved with the process. He also offered for a fellow councillor to take over the Circle if they wished but no one was prepared to take it on.
“An indigenous circle is about equality, working together, collaborative, listening, talking, everyone has a chance to say something and everyone is listened to,” said Needles, who believes that the First Peoples Circle is not being included or listened to by the town.
O’Connor said there may be a lot of confusion from a lack of communication between the two circles.
“All voices should be heard and that was the hope of the Gananoque Indigenous Circle.”
Needles said the First Peoples Circle is feeling dismissed and undervalued in terms of what they’ve done and created over the years.
According to O’Connor there was no intention to take over the First Peoples Circle, and he realizes they have been working towards the goal, but he said they don’t know the process of how to get it through the town.
The Gananoque Indigenous Circle is made up almost entirely of local Gananoque Indigenous members with the exception of O’Connor, who leads the circle through the processes and procedures at town hall. The town circle has two members from the First Peoples Circle but they eventually had to stop coming for personal reasons.
The First Peoples Circle is comprised of Indigenous community members from the Thousand Islands area and their allies and is well known for its events honoring the Indigenous community, including the First Peoples Performing Arts Festival of the Thousand Islands, which was postponed from the last weekend in September until the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The First Peoples Circle was created by a local Mohawk man, Kevin John Saylor, to give a voice to urban Indigenous People in the area, and is co-chaired by Clarice Gervais.