Trent University and Peterborough City Council Learned Nothing from Shrek

University and city fail to acknowledge environmental and Indigenous concerns

1316

For those who have not yet heard, a chunk of Trent University’s wetland property has been sold off to City Council to build a hulking mass of an arena and corresponding 500-car parking lot, a decision that has been in the works for over a decade. In June of 2015 Trent University pledged to sell 22-24 acres of wetland, part of the Nature Area on the Symons Campus, to Peterborough City Council due to a financial crisis that the University has reportedly been in for some time.

Needing the money, selling land that no one appeared to be using might have seemed like a smart financial decision, but the 25 animal species at risk that are identified as residing in the area so close to that of the designated Wildlife Sanctuary will be displaced from their homes, which has caused strain and unrest in the community.

Shrek the swamp ogre’s humble abode, and protest signs from people who would like to evict him from his swamp. From Shrek (2001), a DreamWorks production directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. Image via ShrekWikia (yes, really).

An open meeting was held on campus Tuesday March 21 where there was a short presentation on the Trent Lands Plan followed by a 40-minute question period comprised of frustratingly unresolved issues and complaints. Many of those in attendance were Environmental Sciences undergraduate students, as well as graduates, outdoor educators, and interested parties. When asked how Trent came to be in a financial crisis in the first place, President Leo Groarke, who was present at the meeting to quell concerns about the arena development, curtly suggested that we look to our Provincial Government for these answers. Likewise, many sincere and justified questions went unanswered, or were bureaucratically dodged throughout the meeting.

The main issues that are being raised are those of animal displacement, lost educational opportunities, and environmental damage. Many of the chalk messages you may have seen around campus these past weeks have pointed these problems out. Slogans such as “Trent University teaches environmental sustainability but doesn’t practice it”, “25 species at risk”, and “Stop filling in wetlands” are messages of concern coming from those who feel strongly about protecting the natural environment.

However, several of these chalk messages were washed away by order of the upper administration prior to the Open House on Friday March 16, presumably to not deter families and future students from the tense political atmosphere that is present at our university.

If Groarke and representatives are looking for ways to reach out to students, as they voiced Tuesday, then why the erasure of valid free speech on campus? In addition to silencing student voices, I myself speculate on what information has actually been given on this matter to the associated Indigenous groups in relation to Trent University grounds; traditional territory of the Mississauga Anishinaabe.

Those present on the 21st witnessed the complete omission of a Land Acknowledgement; spoken before non-classroom gatherings at the university as a sign of respect and gratitude to those Indigenous peoples on whose land our school is built. A representative from Sustainable Trent was forced to remind the hosts of this, turning a bad situation worse considering how important Indigenous involvement is in this instance of wetlands development.

You may be wondering, “Why does Peterborough need another arena, right on nature’s doorstep?” It is being argued that it would be beneficial in ending campus isolation, bringing Trent and the city closer together, would further Trent’s reputation, create jobs for students, and help out with Trent’s financial instability. But with this construction comes the loss of both a place to live for many species, as well as educational opportunities for youths.

Lord Farquaad, the leader of the plan against Shrek’s home swamp. Also a popular meme.

One passionate attendee spoke up about her own involvement in educating kids about nature conservation and environmental sciences by bringing them out into the wetlands, some kids who, as she pointed out, live with ADHD and similar conditions. These children often find themselves when immersed in the natural world, seeing how an ecosystem lives and breathes through so many organisms.

I have my own past experience of coming to Trent University as a child for a similar outreach, and fell in love with the school’s beautiful, unmanned land. Having the city and Trent University fill in these acres is downright unjust and certainly does not follow the Trent Lands Plan code of “RESPECT” for cultural, historical, and environmental protection.

If the school can sell off pieces of nature conservation land whenever it likes, who’s to stop them chipping away until there is nothing left? Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” was not meant to be an instruction manual.

Those interested in learning more about this can find information through Sustainable Trent at [email protected] or by checking out https://www.trentu.ca/trentlandsplan/ for an interactive slideshow of the recent history leading up to this land development.