Monday, 18 November 2013

The Six Nations Reserve as a Tourist Destination

I have often asked myself the following question, "If I was from say Toronto, would Six Nations be a place I would want come to visit, and if I chose to do so, would I leave saying that I had an enjoyable stay"?  Certainly Six Nations Tourism would wish you to believe this, but what are the facts?  First I will list and describe those sites and events that some to mind, based on my own experiences, as potential tourist destinations.  I will then explore the official website, and comments that have been made by "real" tourists via a website that allows people to describe their experiences as tourists at any location in Canada.

I have been to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and other than the old Anglican Church and graveyard with all the old familiar surnames, there really isn't much if anything there for say a German tourist.  The landing place of Captain John Deserontyon and his party in 1784 is near the big walleye and Bay of Quinte sign as I recall - closer to the town of Deseronto off the Reserve.  The same could be said for Wahta (Gibson) Mohawk Territory.  It is located in Muskoka, and the setting is lovely - but that can be said for the entire district.  I could not see anything special about Wahta (Sahanatien), and there were no signs pointing to sights of interest.  There is a great deal more to see and do in nearby Bala, where the craft shop that sold products made at Wahta was once located.  It is still listed in the tourist literature for Muskoka, but seems to have been converted to other uses.

This brings us closer to home.  What does Six Nations have that would draw tourists?  Just off the top of my head, the biggest place of interest would be the Her Majesty's Chapel of the Mohawks (St. Pauls) on Mohawk Street near Brantford.  The building was constructed in 1786 and is very quaint and charming.  I can recall when Her Majesty and Prince Phillip visited, my family took part in the Royal visit.  At one time I recall talk of converting the "Henry House" (close to the Chapel) into an interpretive centre.  Nothing came of it.  An archaeological investigation of the Mohawk Village was completed in the 1980s, and then the home sites which were discovered were paved over for a parking lot.  Soon thereafter a massive ugly berm was created all around the "little oxbow" in front of the Church.  The environment around the Mohawk Village site never again had the natural look, which I had found so appealing.  With all of the flood control dams at the Luther Swamp and elsewhere we would never ever get any flood that could possibly reach up as far as the Mohawk Chapel - but who am I to question the engineers?  All I know is that it made one ugly scar on the landscape.  It had so much potential - an opportunity lost.  I refuse to go back because it is so upsetting to see what a botch up has been made of a pristine and historic site.

We do have the Woodland Cultural Centre / Mohawk Institute.  As to the latter, although "notorious" and "controversial" as per my previous blog, it  houses an amazing library and research centre (at least it did).  At one time (in part due to Guy Spittals I believe) the library had virtually all of the books ever published on Iroquoian culture and anything related.  I always felt though, that if I was a regular tourist, I would find the place less than welcoming - the ambiance, well, it always seemed lacking although the staff were very helpful and knowledgeable.  This was also a cultural component there.  I can recall when there were, for example, distinguished Six Nations linguists who had offices there (e.g., Reg Henry), and there were conferences held there that they were well attended and included for example linguists from all over the Continent.  I don't know whatever happened to this learning and research aspect, but I have not heard of any such events happening there any longer (perhaps I am misinformed).

The Woodland Cultural Centre used to have a recreated Iroquois Village that was interesting, until it fell apart of its own volition.  It was rather like the one at Kanata Tourist Centre just down the road (Mohawk Street) that is now under occupation by the Mohawk Workers.  Its potential fizzled, although that happened before the Mohawk Workers arrived on the scene.  I always wondered why it floundered. 

The wooden building, part of the Woodland Cultural Educational Centre to the left of the Mohawk Institute, when Tom Hill was a fixture there, had a great deal of potential.  The artifact collection, and the art collection showcasing the works of local artisans was (maybe still is, I haven't been there in a while) superlative.  However, unless things have changed, I noticed that over the years the establishment (even the structure itself) was "going downhill".  Whether it is due to chronic underfunding, I don't know.  It is a shame - all of the above named settings had huge "potential" as sites that would / could draw tourists.  Things are so scattered and run down now that unless there was a Herculean undertaking to focus on tourist potential - it will just get worse.

On the largest part of the Reserve (Tuscarora Township) there are a number of things that might interest tourists, but in general, and trying not to be disrespectful, Ohsweken does not have "Old World Charm" or the quaintness of the old towns along the St. Lawrence in Eastern Ontario.  I am not sure what a tourist might wish to see "in town".  On the outskirts there is Grand River Enterprises, but as far as I know, there are no tours.  And quite frankly the shabby smoke shops are not going to seem palatable in the eyes of a tourist - only the White people who come with the express purpose of getting cheap smokes and (if possible) gas.

One establishment with very solid tourist potential is Iroqrafts.  It sells the full range of Indian crafts(including local artisans but also across North America).  There are craft supplies, and there are books that are difficult to find anywhere else (thanks to the fact that the business was started by Guy Spittals, who later went into publishing out of print books about Iroquoian people).  It has a very homey and welcoming atmosphere.  I remember the smells from when I was young, and would come away smelling of deer hide (a good thing).  Unfortunately it is in an out of the way location, and not at all easy to find if you are not a local.

Then there is the Speedway (Friday nights), the Arena for sporting events (e.g., hockey, lacrosse),  the Forest Theatre, the Pow Wow, and Bread and Cheese Day (the latter is really only for Community members - so we can cross that off the list).  Oh, almost forgot, there is the Bingo Hall north of the Chiefwood Bridge.

Then we come to Chiefswood, the home of the famous poetess Pauline Johnson and her parents Chief G.H.M. Johnson and Emily Howells.  The building has been restored, and a tour of the home is interesting, and the curator knowledgeable.  The grounds, well in my mind's eye they don't compliment the home - although the herb gardens and such are excellent.  The parking though leaves something to be desired.  You want people to come away feeling that they have had a positive experience - but the access is poor.  Having a trailer camp next door ....... I guess that is good if it brings in tourist dollars but it takes away from the classiness of Chiefswood.

The biggest potential draw is the Grand River.  Unfortunately there is little to nothing in the way of tourist potential that has been developed here in relation to what one can find in surrounding municipalities.  Caledonia and Brantford both have extensive trail networks along the Grand that can be used by hikers, bikers and families who want to drop a line in the water.  The fishing below the dam in Caledonia is a huge draw - at times the fishermen are literally shoulder to shoulder lined up trying to catch a brace of steelhead trout.  Between Caledonia and Middleport there is the Big Creek Boat Farm which takes tourists on "paddlewheeler" adventures (often with meal included) along the Grand, and somewhat ironically, the narrator / Captain speaks largely about the Six Nations during these tours.  However there is nothing comparable on the Reserve side of the River.  The Grand has been designated as a Canadian Heritage River, but there is little that Six Nations have done to capitalise on this.  Most canoeists stick to the north (east) side of the River and don't get any flavour of Six Nations - other than hearing gunshots in the distance or unnervingly close (I am speaking from experience).

I can picture what might have been, and the potential that was there in say the 1980s, versus the decay that I see now - and realise that it may simply be too overwhelming to undertake a mega works project to bring to fruition what some of us have in mind.

Lets be frank too.  It is well known within a great distance of Six Nations that there is always the possibility of a road blockade and / or protest of some kind.  Can anyone really imagine residents of Brantford (the closest City) being keen to come to Six Nations.  Anyone who reads the Brantford Expositor is exposed to an almost daily run down of the scatter of protests all over their City.  Not exactly the climate that fosters a wish to know more about Six Nations culture.  It is easy to draw in student activists, whose "solidarity" can be a bit fickle, who don't have two dimes to rub together, but with the present situation even that paltry source is very spotty. 

Six Nations does have a group whose job it is to enhance tourism locally.  The office of Six Nations Tourism is a very large building, just to the north of Chiefswood Bridge, in Onondaga Township.  Previously the office was located between 4th and 5th Line on Chiefswood Road.  The website seen here is very interesting.  The wording at the bottom should give non - locals an accurate thumbnail sketch of what to expect.  They say, "Experience the Culture of Six Nations".  Located alongside the picturesque waters of the Grand River, Six Nations is a community everyone should experience.  When you visit, you are greeted with a community that loves to laugh, live and enjoy the gifts of Mother Earth.  Six Nations of the Grand River Territory has a variety of experiences unmatched by any community throughout the nation!  Come experience Six Nations for yourself, a place for fun and relaxation, a place to discover.  I wish I could say, "right on", but to be entirely truthful, this does not truly reflect what the unsuspecting visitor is likely to find - unless they perhaps arrive by tour bus with a carefully orchestrated "visit" to ensure that all is sanitised sufficiently.

The website divides things into three categories - History & Culture, Festivals & Events, Nature & Landscape.  Having never before clicked on these boxes I will do so now to see if what is described meets what I know to be true as a local.  Under History & Culture is a description of the history of Six Nations, the Grand River Tract, something of the culture, and a list of notables from the Reserve such as Tom Longboat and Pauline Johnson.  Under Festivals & Events is a calender list of upcoming events, such as the Grand River "Champion of Champions" Pow - wow, the Six Nations Fair, the Six Nations Pageant / Forest Theatre, the Snowsnake Tournament, and various events hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre.  There is a focus on the Grand River Pow Wow and the Santa Claus Parade.  With respect to Nature & Landscape, they note the Six Nations Nature Trail at Chiefswood - what I have seen is very abbreviated.  Also of note is the fact that Six Nations is within the Carolinian Forest district, where plant and animal species usually only seen in southern climates are found.  Alas, I don't know of any efforts to promote the forest environment, which truly does have potential (I won't mention the obvious, such as the burned out cars scattered everywhere).  They also recommend the Mohawk Chapel.  In all it is a very professional website, and they are also on Facebook, and Twitter, and there are various U-Tube videos.

There is also a site, which came up as the second in my google search of 'six nations tourism', as seen here.  It is a Trip Advisor site, which touts itself as the "world's largest travel site", where people comment on their tourist experiences at various locations across Canada.  29 people have left comments.  Based on what I can see the highly positive ones (e.g., 5 radio buttons or 5) were apparently left by Six Nations residents and business owners (e.g., Lynda P).  It is the non - locals that are most informative.  In other words how does someone from a city in Ontario, or some other part of Canda or someone from another country experience their stay at Six Nations?  That appears to be a different story.  I will include just a few of the most recent postings to this site, in sequence:

1)  (2 of 5 radio buttons) "Not a lot on the reserve for tourists" - 'The pow wow`s are really good but apart from that not a lot on the reserve for tourists.

If its raining dont bother as it is very muddy. food is always good and the dancers and costumes are spectacular'.  (Brantford resident)

2)  (2 of 5 radio buttons) "Love setting Indian cigarettes" - 'Drove throught this part of Ontario and when we visited we noticed numerous rustic looking huts selling cigarettes. I was always under the impression that the Six Nations peoplw were proud of their culture but the numerous huts selling cigarettes certainly gave me a different impression of this area'. (Oakville resident)

3)  (2 of 5 radio buttons) "Not happy" - 'We had people visiting and decided to take them to the reservation to watch one of the pow wow that they have there, unfortunatly out car was broken into while we where there'.  (Hamilton resident)

4)  (3 of 5 radio buttons) "Go to the burger barn" - 'I have been to Six Nations many times for various reasons, Pow wow, shopping, day excursions and have always enjoyed ourselves. Went to the burger barn for a b-day party and the food was simply amazing, good prices, good quality,big portions and the service was friendly. If you go make sure you know where you are going....have a map because it can get frustrating if you get lost! If you are going to a Pow wow a suggestion is to google it ahead of time to know when the events are taking place that you wish to see'.  (Hamilton resident)

5)  (5 of 5 radio buttons) "Six Nations of the Grand, the friendliest, best place to visit" - 'Six Nations of the Grand River boasts a number of attractions developed to encourage visitors to the community from the annual pow wow in July, to the Pauline Johnson Mansion, Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, historical sites here before Canada was a country, crafts shops. Visit, enjoy learn about the Six Nations its a fun exciting place to go. And don't be fooled by comments here from people who have never been to the community and instead attempt to instill hatred or fear. Six Nations is fabulous community on the Grand River that welcomes visitors'.  (Ohsweken resident)

6)  (1 of 5 radion buttons) "Pushed around" - 'We will not go back....Went to see what this was all about....said public welcome.... treated very poorly at the gate.... tons of heavy drinking and swearing....DO NOT bring children... We were pushed around a lot and asked many times why are you hear.... We left after an hour..... Should not of lasted that long....'  (Hamilton resident)

7)  (5 of 5 radio buttons) "Different culture" - 'To understand the First Nations, you have to visit them! You will meet a great group of people trying to make their way in a complex society. Try attending summer gathering or just go shopping and talk to the people'.  (Hamilton resident)

8)  (4 of 5 radio buttons) "Sweet, humble people with an amazing history" - 'We often forget how rich our neighbours culture can be. Six Nations folks embody all that is good and pure about Canada. Humility, respect for the land and hospitality. Check it out. Fun and rare experience'.  (Dominican Republic resident)

9)  (1 of 5 radion buttons) "don't go where you are not wanted" - 'If you are not aboriginal, you may find yourself feeling very unwanted here. It is a small minority that feels that way, but they are very vocal and very mean spirited. They do a disservice to all native peoples, but because of the Warriors and other bad elements, this is no longer a place to visit...even in daylight!'  (Dundas resident)

On that rather downbeat note I think I will close.


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