Partridge Hall

Official Premiere of THE GREAT NIAGARA ESCARPMENT Indigenous Cultural Map, a multimedia online resource containing stunning photography, captivating video, and contextual information that identifies important Indigenous historic, cultural, and natural world locations along more than 525 kilometres from Niagara Falls to the western region of Manitoulin Island.

Under the guidance of Artistic Director Tim Johnson this remarkable resource was developed by Plenty Canada, an Indigenous charitable organization, in association with the Canadian Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to explore how best to engage and include Indigenous peoples in the organization and activation of Biosphere Reserves within Canada. The Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve is one of four Biosphere Reserves within Ontario. Each is mapped upon both traditional and historic Indigenous lands, however, little has been done to research, document, and integrate Indigenous land-based knowledge and experience, heritage sites, and areas that are important to the protection of biodiversity into the maps and materials that are used by UNESCO, First Nations, municipalities, educational systems, and other public agencies and organizations with connections to these areas.


Tim Johnson, Artistic Producer, Celebration of Nations

Tim Johnson artistic producer celebration of nations

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, artistic director of The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map, director of Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiative, and artistic producer of Celebration of Nations, is an experienced education, museum, and arts executive who recently helped lead the development of two public memorials of national significance that recognize and honour Indigenous peoples’ contributions to Canada. The first, Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations and Native Allies Commemorative Memorial, was established in Queenston Heights Park in 2016. The second, the First Nations Peace Monument, designed by world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, was established in DeCew House Heritage Park in Thorold in 2017.

Tim also served on the committee, and sub-committee for design and construction, for Voices of Freedom Park, a public art installation dedicated in 2018 in Niagara-on-the-Lake to African Canadians whose contributions to the Niagara Region have been significant and largely underrepresented. In addition, he was instrumental in defining the criteria and shaping the curatorial selection of a contemporary master artwork by Lilly Otasevic, entitled Curtain Call, a new public art piece installed in 2019 on FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre as a legacy project of Celebration of Nations and the City of St. Catharines.

Tim is also a conceptual author and  executive producer of the Sundance Film Festival, Hot Docs, and Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television Award-winning documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World.

As the former Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Tim managed the museum’s largest organizational group across its facilities in Washington and New York. A long list of critically acclaimed exhibits and programs were produced during his tenure, creating an era that significantly advanced the institution’s museology and reputation.

Active in his home community of Six Nations of the Grand River and with several prestigious education, arts, and journalism institutions for nearly four decades, Tim received the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture in 2016.

Deb Pella Keen

Deb Pella Keen retired from the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) in 2016 as director. The NEC is a provincial agency that works to preserve the Niagara Escarpment as a continuous natural landscape – a vital corridor of green space through south-central Ontario which is also designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. She previously held senior management positions with the Ministries of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Environment and Climate Change in Toronto, Aurora, Sudbury, and Peterborough. Deb has extensive experience in conducting community consultation and engagement while developing, implementing and evaluating environmental and natural resource programs and policies, with a particular interest in engaging Indigenous peoples. Deb currently volunteers for the Canadian Council for UNESCO on the Canadian Man and Biosphere Committee (involves biosphere reserves), Plenty Canada,  and the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust on their Land Securement Committee. Deb holds a Bachelor of Science (Forestry) from the University of Toronto, enjoys exploring the out of doors by foot, canoe, bike, or skis with her family and friends.

Larry McDermott

Larry McDermott (Algonquin) is executive director of Plenty Canada, an Indigenous non-government organization devoted to the protection of Mother Earth, building healthy communities, and promoting cross-cultural awareness of the value of Indigenous ways of knowing to achieve a sustainable environment for future generations.

A former three-time mayor and council member of Lanark Highlands and chair of the Rural Forum of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, he was a commissioner on the Ontario Human Rights Commission and a member of numerous organizations including the International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity, the Ontario Species at Risk Public Advisory Committee, the Canadian Environmental Network, UNESCO, and the Ontario Recovery Strategy for the American Eel. Larry also has served as a comprehensive claim representative for Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, is a certified tree marker and butternut assessor, and holds other environmental certifications. He lives in a 170-year-old log home on 500 acres of biologically diverse Algonquin land along the Mississippi River.

Mark Zelinski

Mark Zelinski, trained as an artist and designer, graduated as the top student of OCAD in 1979. His diverse career as a professional photographer has taken him across 80 countries, with clients ranging from The National Film Board of Canada to Panasonic. He is also a publisher, writer, painter, and filmmaker, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and winner of the Canadian Governor General’s Medal. Mark is best known for his “Books That Heal” initiative – donating 7,000 copies of his photography books to 100 worldwide charities. His nine internationally acclaimed photography books include forewords by HRH Prince Philip, The Honourable Lincoln Alexander, HRH Prince Andrew, AFN Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day and The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau. His new book, Heart Of Turtle Island: The Niagara Escarpment, brings exquisite focus to the environmental treasures of the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, and celebrates the Indigenous communities that thrive along its rugged, curving path.

As a result, from January to June 2017 Plenty Canada partnered with the Niagara Escarpment Commission to organize engagement meetings with Indigenous communities living within the Niagara Escarpment to explain the origins and objectives of UNESCO’s Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, and to assess interest and facilitate ideas for increasing Indigenous participation in the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve. Two meetings were held, the first at Six Nations Polytechnic in Six Nations of the Grand River and the second at the Bruce Peninsula National Park Visitor Centre in Tobermory. The consensus that emerged from these two meetings with Indigenous advisors supported Indigenous participation and prescribed that a “story-telling and mapping” project should be the first recommended pragmatic program developed to begin restoring Indigenous knowledge, visibility, and character to the Niagara Escarpment.

As a result, Plenty Canada proceeded to secure funds and implement a project to develop a prototype template for hosting information within a digital geographic mapping platform of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, inclusive of Manitoulin Island.

Cultural mapping is a concept and process used by organizations, including UNESCO, to describe a variety of research methods, techniques, and tools applied to the identification, description, and portrayal of tangible and intangible cultural resources and assets, including those of distinct populations, within select landscapes around the world. Within the context of the Niagara Escarpment, Plenty Canada worked with Indigenous advisors and a growing network of professional allies to document, celebrate, and safeguard important Indigenous heritage resources.

Cultural mapping is emerging as an exciting interdisciplinary field that is fully compliant with and supported by the multi-media capabilities of the Internet. As such, the interactive map of THE GREAT NIAGARA ESCARPMENT is layered upon the land featuring appropriate knowledge and histories of meaningful Indigenous locations to re-establish Indigenous experience and voice upon this ancient and special geologic formation.

The applications for this content-infused cultural map are significant across the entire Niagara Escarpment and World Biosphere network. From educational, natural resource, and land management organizations within First Nations, to provincial agencies like the Niagara Escarpment Commission, municipalities, and international agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting and preserving biologically and historically important regions, this Indigenous conceived and designed project (even in its current prototype phase) shows great promise in serving the objectives of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation ‘Calls To Action.’

The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map is supported by Ontario Arts Council, Aboriginal Languages Initiative of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Program of Canadian Heritage, Plenty Canada, and numerous volunteers whose efforts enabled the project to significantly exceed expectation.