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Cleantech Commons meeting held in 2019. Image courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt and the Peterborough Examiner.

Trent Approves Lands Plan That "Makes Sense For The World"

Written by
Brazil Gaffney-Knox
and
March 5, 2021
Trent Approves Lands Plan That "Makes Sense For The World"
Cleantech Commons meeting held in 2019. Image courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt and the Peterborough Examiner.

On February 5, the Trent Board of Governors (BoG) gathered virtually for their first meeting of 2021. The meeting agenda included presentation of the president’s report, a revision to the Property and Land Use Special Resolution (II.4), and the approval of the Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan -- a document 3 years in the making. 

This final iteration of the Plan included revisions made in response to the community feedback received during the community engagement period that ran from October 15, 2020 to January 4, 2021. 

The board was joined on the Zoom call by the Lands Plan team lead, Julie Davis, VP External Relations & Advancement and representatives from the three consulting firms hired for this project. Kristen Harrison, environmental lead from North South Environmental, Bob Goulais of Nbisiing Consulting, an indigenous relations firm, and Lina Al-Dajani of SvN consulting, the lead firm delivered short presentations on their contributions to the Lands Plan.

Vice-Chair, Debra Cooper Burger, began the discussion describing the financial instability wrought by the pandemic. “All Universities and colleges have been hit hard by the pandemic,” Cooper Burger stated, “we have struggled with our finances and certainly year over year without any increases, it continues to be a challenge.” Cooper Burger highlighted the necessity of revenue generation in a time like this, clarifying that revenue should not come “at the expense of squandering or divesting our natural resources.” 

VP Julie Davis and the consulting team described the overarching values of the Lands Plan as knowledge and conservation of natural heritage, respect for and incorporation of Indigenous knowledge, and financial sustainability. The Lands Plan “outlines an ambitious vision,” said Davis, it endeavours to “set a new standard for campus planning.”

This aspiration of ‘standard setting’ heeded a push from the community to “advance [Indigenous] reconciliation through both the process of creating the plan and the initiatives it included,” said Davis. Bob Goulais, Senior Principal of Nbisiing Consulting explained that Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) was “really a priority for this study.” 

“Really [this Plan] represented one of the first times that ITK is being used in this way to inform how the lands will be used at Trent University.” 

The Indigenous consultation for the Lands Plan was values-based, said Goulais, it began with a set of six guiding principles built in collaboration with the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg Elders Council. Throughout the project, the team worked in collaboration with multiple Indigenous groups including Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg Elders Council, and Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations. Goulais highlighted the importance of meaningful collaborations with local nations; the project itself began with a ceremonial fire and the intention to invoke the “Nishnaabe way of knowing” and way of understanding throughout the process. 

A tangible outcome of this consultation is the promise of a dedicated space for Indigenous teaching and learning: the proposed Traditional Teaching Lodge (pp. 92-93). This facility would be an Indigenous-focused space with buildings and grounds for teaching, learning and ceremony, as well as areas to grow food and medicine. The lodge may be built on the land where a twin pad arena was proposed in 2015.

A major addition in the Lands Plan is the University Green Network (UGN), a new designation meant to link greenspace throughout campus (pp. 64-85). The UGN redesignates what were previously “protected sites” to include more interstitial greenery called “linkage areas.” This means “paths and grass areas like quads/groomed fields [will] be recognized for their ‘hydrologic functions’ as green space.” Harrison noted that this brings opportunities for additional structures throughout campus like “pocket forests, pollinator gardens, and regenerative food growing spaces.”

“Through the UGN Trent meets its commitment to maintain 60% of the campus as Nature Area and open space.” The UGN, Harrison said, “looks beyond protected spaces and to the entirety of Trent lands and the opportunities for environmental innovation, to strive to become a regenerative campus” (our emphasis).

This review of the Trent Nature Area boundaries added 49 acres to the Nature Area, but included active farming spaces, the ‘Trent Farm’, in the Nature Area boundary. This change required the addition of a land management category for “regenerative agriculture” which is presumably the farming practice to be used in the Nature Area. The section on ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ was added to the document since the October 2020 draft was shared with the public (pp. 74-77). 

Another change from the October 2020 draft is an increase in the size of the campus core. Lead consultant, Lina Al Dajani, explained that this change will allow for a small farm within walking distance of the campus core, hinting at the possibility of the Trent Vegetable Gardens remaining in their current location. She clarified that the decision around the placement of the TVG has yet to be made, “the details of the ultimate location and configuration of the gardens extends beyond the high-level scope of the Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan and warrants more engagement.” 

According to Al Dajani, The Lands Plan moves away from the “parcel plan” mode of the 2006 Endowment Lands Master Plan, using a holistic approach to make Trent a place “where the campus and community meet, where learning and discovery are integral part of all that takes place.” The districts marry the academic aspects of Trent’s vision to the plans for enterprise. “These districts include academic, residential and employment uses, gathering spaces and recreational amenities” said Al Dajani, “all designed to offer experiential learning and research opportunities and provide a reliable income stream to reinvest in teaching and learning.” 

For instance, Al Dajani noted that the proposed seniors village which will “contribute Trent’s reputation as an age friendly University and academic leader in ageing studies.”

Throughout this initial presentation the consultants focused on exciting potential builds and the successes in community and Indigenous engagement and consultation. There was little discussion of the economic viability of the decisions discussed. 

Three deputation individuals were approved to speak to the Lands Plan: graduate student Matt Dutry, the TCSA’s Jocelyn Whalen, and Dorothy Taylor, band member and Elder at Curve Lake First Nation. Each was given 5 minutes to address the board. 

First to take the floor was Matt Dutry, finance officer of the SAFS Society and active member of the student and community farming projects on campus: the Trent Vegetable Gardens that provide food to the Seasoned spoon Cafe, and the Trent Market Garden funded by the SAFS society. These gardens were of particular focus during the community engagement period. Dutry spoke to some of the issues raised by the community that he didn’t feel had been adequately addressed before or during the meeting of the board. 

Dutry explained that he had been actively participating in the Lands Plan’s public engagement process over the past few years, and that he experienced shortfalls throughout this process that had not been addressed by VP Julie Davis or the consulting teams. “I am worried about the integrity of the proposed plans.”

Matt Dutry at the Trent Vegetable Gardens. Photo courtesy of Ben Wolfe.

In particular, Dutry explained that the language used in aspects of the Plan misdirected readers and withheld pertinent information that could contextualize their decision making. 

One example was the use of the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) corridor as an excuse for moving the Trent Market Garden (TMG) and Trent Farm. These farms sit on land that is held by the MTO, giving them jurisdiction over what is built. Should the Ministry choose to build a highway, these projects would have to move, making it difficult to address long term goals. 

Though this is certainly a good reason to move, Dutry pointed out that the TMG, TVG and Trent Apiary had delivered a proposal to the Lands Plan team August 2020 that imagined the gardens and Apiary in a shared location in the area surrounding the current location of the TVG, the 15 year old field garden east of the DNA buildings. 

Dutry added that mentions of the TVG and other gardens were “nondescript” throughout the Lands Plan, with discussion mostly focusing on “new locations.” 

He informed the Board that the TMG, TVG, Apiary proposal was submitted to the Lands Plan team again in December 2020, a detail that had seemingly not been shared with the Board at that meeting. “All conversation has been minimized around this alternative map” said Dutry.

Dutry’s primary request was that the Board delay the approval of the Lands Plan, citing community feedback and student response and noting that some students were working on an alternative plan for the gardens.

“Alternative solutions need time to develop,” said Dutry. Quoting Robin Wall Kimmerer, Dutry asked the board to consider these alternatives, there is “another [economic] model, one based on reciprocity rather than accumulation, where wealth and security come from the quality of your relationships and not on the illusion of self-sufficient.”

Dutry concluded with a suggestion to the Board, “Thriving is possible, only if you have nurtured strong bonds with your community.” 

Elder Dorothy Taylor. Photo courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt and the Peterborough Examiner.

Next to speak was Dorothy Taylor, band member of Curve Lake First Nation and a recognized Elder. 

Elder Taylor had submitted her comments to the Board in writing, and spoke briefly to summarize her perspective. “I am bold to say this,” she began, “I have heard not only the voices of the people, but more importantly the voices of the land. The land does have a voice and it speaks to us in a way… in a way that is more spiritual and it’s more in song and you can hear it even more strongly in the sounds of the birds and the sounds of the insects.”

“Truly, and I have to apologize to the organizers and the consultants. The land has said “do not allow anymore, do not allow this project to go forward. Because this land is sacred, it actually is sacred meaning it has a connection to the higher power creator god.”

With home-grown tobacco, she left with a prayer in for the land and for the people in Anishinaabemowin, confident that “the decisions that are made on behalf of the land will be in a good way, in understanding and recognizing the sacredness of the land.”

“I ask that you consider the little bit that we have presented today, chi miigwetch.” 

Next to speak was Jocelyn Whalen, the environment and sustainability commissioner for the TCSA. “I am here today to represent students,” she began, “We are in an important place at Trent University. We can become leaders in the environment and sustainability.”

Through her position at the TCSA, Whalen conducted a survey to gather data on student engagement with the Lands Plan  between November 22 and December 22 2020. Her findings showed that students did not understand aspects of the Plan, “it is evident that there is a gap in information that has been provided to students and a lack of understanding of [the Plan].”

Jocelyn Whalen, environment and sustainability commissioner at the TCSA.

She went on to speculate some reasons for this gap, “this could be due to the lack of consultation with students prior to and during the development of these plans.” She reported that respondents were particularly disappointed in the management of online consultation sessions. In particular, she described the November 2020 ‘Virtual Town Hall’. This meeting was conducted over Zoom in ‘Webinar Mode’ and left little opportunity for participants to engage with the Lands Plan team, share their thoughts, or even to see who else was on the call. 

Whalen reported that respondents felt the plan was “hard to read and understand.” Additionally, respondents noted a high interest in maintaining respect for Indigenous community members and their views. Further, respondents didn’t support the developments like Cleantech Commons, and the Seniors Village. She also mentioned concerns about development on the habitat of species at risk and provincially significant wetlands. 

“Notably, there is significant concern about the integrity of Trent University and its reputation as an environmental leader, a reputation that is highly valued by the student body by and large.”

To conclude, Whalen reported that students were not in favor of the initial proposal to move the student farms (TVG, TMG and Trent Apiary) into the Trent Nature Area**. 

It should be noted that the final Lands Plan does not place these farms in the Nature Area, but it does not confirm whether they will be displaced, nor where they will move. 

Two board members, Scott Sinclair, and Jaime McKenna asked clarifying questions of the Lands Plan team and the deputations due to the formal structure of Board of Governors meetings, they did not incite substantive discussions on the topics at hand.

President Leo Groarke chose to address the deputations directly, rather than ask questions or clarify. He spoke at length about the varied responsibilities held by the University in a time like this and the value of the Lands Plan in service of these responsibilities. 

He reminded listeners that the Lands Plan process was initially only supposed to take a year-- and 2021 marked the end of three years. He said that this was in part due to an effort to consult effectively with the community, “there have been hundreds of opportunities for consultation.” 

Groarke noted that there would be opportunities for ongoing consultation, “Matt, you may think what you do, but I think there’s still an opportunity for you to engage in that discussion about the Market Garden. The university is quite open to that.”

Trent President Dr. Leo Groarke.

“The consultation has been remarkable,” he said, “the grain of truth in the concerns about consultation [from the deputations] is that what is true about the plan is that not everyone agrees with the Plan.” 

As if speaking directly to Elder Dorothy Taylor, Groarke said “There are some people who are very determined that there should be no development whatsoever on Trent land.” Elder Taylor has explicitly stated this view in the past

“We need to respectfully acknowledge that there are members of our community that believe that,” said Groake. “Disagreement” in a decision of this nature “is normal.”

Groarke went on to detail the University’s many responsibilities to the City, to the land, to the founders, and to sustainability for the future generations of Trent students.  

Trent must “find a way forward that balances all these conflicts and all these responsibilities,” he said, “and I don’t believe that the best way to do this is by doing nothing with Trent land.” 

“I think the best way to do this is by being leaders in environmental, sustainable development, whether that’s the amount of our land that is dedicated to wildlife, or whether it is the projects we take on having very high environmental standards. That balance is what the world is looking for.” 

“We don’t teach the world how to find that balance by just doing nothing with our land, we find that by finding a way to balance all these responsibilities.”

Groarke concluded with some notes on the incorporation of ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ into the Plan, “Trent has an opportunity to be a leader not just in sustainable agriculture, but in regenerative agriculture--and the world’s not going to get by without agriculture. Trying to find a place where Trent is different.” 

“It doesn’t just make sense for the locality, it makes sense for the world.”

In response to these comments, Dorothy Taylor raised her hand. Due to the rules of the Board of Governors meetings, deputations were no longer able to comment, as they had used their allotted five minutes.

Debra Cooper Burger moved that the “Trent Board of Governors approve the 2021 TLNAP that supersedes the 2002 Nature Areas Steward Plan, the 2006 Endownment Lands Master Plan, the 2013 Trent Lands Framework Plan.” With no objections and no abstentions. The Plan was unanimously passed. 

In conclusion, Chair, Armand Le Barge, expressed the Board’s gratitude for the work of the consultants, those on the Trent Lands Plan Committee and “a very special thank you to VP Julie Davis.”

**Jocelyn Whalen's report can be accessed via direct email with jocelynwhalen@trentu.ca

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