Township of Wilmot and Region of Waterloo approve secondary use by-law for Indigenous centre on Pfenning’s Organic Farm.
News Thu, Nov 11th, 2021 Nigel Gordijk
An Indigenous healing and education centre in New Hamburg is celebrating after a month of uncertainty about its future ended last week with good news from the Township of Wilmot and Region of Waterloo.
Crow Shield Lodge discovered in late September that its location on land owned by Pfenning’s Organic Farm might be in contravention of local secondary use zoning by-laws.
However, on Nov. 4, the lodge received the approval it needed to continue. The Township referred to the Region’s Official Plan, which states that the secondary use must clearly be accessory to the principal use of the property, and also that it should be “small in scale and compatible with surrounding agricultural operations.” The Township’s Official Plan contains a similar clause.
Jenn Pfenning, whose family owns the farm, said, “Whenever there’s a new project that’s going to be contemplated on any land, it has to fit within the approved use for whatever zoning applies to that land. Since this is a farm, that’s agricultural zoning, and the zoning by-law lays out what is deemed appropriate use of agricultural land.”
Township and the Region jointly administer by-laws and regulations around zoning.
“Because this is a new project and something that really is not widely practiced or seen across Ontario, they had to make sure that there weren’t going to be any challenges to it,” said Pfenning, who is a Wilmot councillor. “There are a lot of projects similar to this in Saskatchewan.”
A media release from Crow Shield Lodge said, “This historic outcome honours all involved and shows that it is possible to make space in policy when there is a willingness to find a way forward respectfully, together.” The release noted that this announcement was being made during Treaties Recognition Week.
While the lodge’s founder Clarence Cachagee feared that he’d have to shut down, he was also concerned about damaging the relationship he’d nurtured with the Pfennings. “I was actually thinking about dropping everything, pulling all the lodges down, pulling the tipis down until we could figure this out,” he said.
The lodge began as an 18-month pilot project at Eramosa Eden and Eden Mills five years ago. Cachagee, who is a Cree survivor of the Sixties Scoop, grew up on a farm in Mannheim. He decided to bring Crow Shield closer to the community where he spent most of his childhood.
He began by searching for potential partners who could help to realize his dream, and eventually, he connected with Pfenning. After several weeks of preparation, the lodge welcomed its first invited participants this July.
The lodge is a registered non-profit organization with charitable status. It’s funded through small community grants from Kindred Credit Union, Mennonite Central Committee, and the United Church, plus individual private donations.
Cachagee said he created a place “where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people could come together, where they could walk together, where they could heal together, and where they could start having a mutual understanding of what it means to be Indigenous.”
Everyone is welcomed at the lodge as an equal, he added.
“I think Canada is built on so many nations and so many countries coming together. It’s very multicultural. With those people coming from different countries, they come with different issues; they come with different beliefs, they come with a different understanding. It doesn’t matter who you are, what colour your skin is, what faith you believe. When we take everything away, our blood is the same colour.”
Crow Shield encourages people to be vulnerable and share their truths. Talking openly and frankly about Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people is the first step towards reconciliation, said Cachagee.
“I think we’re in the truth part of truth and reconciliation. A lot more truths have to come to the surface before anything can be reconciled. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s why we need more spaces like this.”
Indigenous people need an apology for the land, language and culture that was taken away from them, he said.
“At one time, this land used to belong to all of the Indigenous nations. We’re land-based people. Now that the moccasin is on the other foot, so to say, it’s so hard for us to have access to any land share. We can go to Crown land, but there really aren’t any spaces where Indigenous people are allowed to do ceremony.”
“The land is gifted to us by our children. We always have to think of the next seven generations that are coming up behind us,” he added.
“We don’t own anything. Yeah, we get to hold on to and protect some really awesome sacred things, but when the time is right, we pass them on. That’s the understanding and philosophy that we have.”