Land Conservation Heroes

Becky is an Anishnaabe grandmother from Georgina Island. Becky has long been an advocate for natural building and, having built her own home using all natural materials, she believes that Indigenous women can play a crucial role in tackling the enormous housing problem Indigenous people face. She co-founded MnoAki Land Trust in 2022. Becky volunteers with the Alliance of Canadian Land Trusts and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance. 

How can the land trust community honor and protect water? 

Prior to the Indian Act, we freely travelled, usually by water. Everyone had canoes. That’s the way we lived, we’d go for our food sources, our medicine sources. The relationship with water was very intimate. We need to regain that relationship with the water.  

Access to land and water to harvest traditional plants and medicines is so important for Indigenous peoples. The land trust community can consider this in their planning. There is so much that we need to harvest. Birch bark, teepee poles, things that grow in wetlands. We can consider harvesting rights, especially for plants. I want to make these available to children, future generations, and the generationally lost. 

How can land trusts and Indigenous people collaborate? 

The land trust movement has a clear-eyed perspective on things, we can be a bastion of strength against governments and corporations taking away people’s autonomy…. My people did not do land ownership, we just lived where we found food. 

It is so important to keep the ability within your family to provide your own food. 

Everyone should read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is law. My reading of it is that every hunting and fishing lodge should be returned to Indigenous people. People would be outraged. But we were outraged- we couldn’t believe it [when the rig

ht to hunt and fish was taken away]. We can’t hunt, we can’t fish? The loss of our traditional food sources was the beginning of our downfall health wise. We were once strong healthy people. 

Tell us about Mno Aki Land Trust. 

I started Mno Aki to assist landless Indigenous people to reconnect with the land through ceremonies, seed planting and other cultural activities. We are going to be working on a pilot project to see how we can provide better understanding of Indigenous knowledges for non-Indigenous people – gather, walk the land, learn about varied species, just a deeper appreciation for Indigenous viewpoints. It is also for our people, those from the city who do not have much access to open land, youth, grandmothers, and everyone who would like to hear our drums again.  

What is one of your favorite memories or experiences in nature? 

As a kid, I loved going out fishing, hunting, and foraging with my dad.

What is your vision for nature in Ontario? 

My vision for nature is for it to be respected in its entirety, so it can thrive. I would like to see society embrace nature as the provider and teacher that it is, develop a loving relationship with nature, to give thanks and offer semaa (tobacco). 

I hoped for people to make these and put them up in forests everywhere. In some places the native people would put prayer flags on small trees, and people who did not know what they were would take them down, so I made these instead. 


Barbara Heidenreich is a former member of OLTA’s Board of Governors and an active member of the land trust community. 

Barb and her dogs

Teamwork: Barb working with her dogs

How have you been involved in the land trust movement?

After a long career in land use planning, my involvement with the land trust community began while I was on contract with Evergreen (2001-2003), as Common Grounds Manager of Land Trusts & Conservation where I was looking for ways to conserve nature within urban and urbanizing areas. I advised local community groups across Canada on saving nature in cities using innovative securement techniques, fundraising, municipal partnerships and building capacity by establishing land trusts. That brought Paul Peterson, Ian Attridge and Bob Barnett into my life …

all key leaders in the growing Ontario land trust movement. A group of us led by Ian leapt into forming the Kawartha Land Trust and I became its first Chair until joining the Ontario Heritage Trust (2003-2016) and could no longer sit on any land trust board. Only when I retired was I able to actively participate in OLTA and its Committees (FAC & CEDWG). Looking back over a 50-year career, I found my true kindred spirits working in the conservation community. Now I am currently active with American Friends of Canadian Conservation; 2 OLTA committees; Baxter Creek Watershed Alliance, Forests Ontario – Heritage Tree Program and mentoring Trent University and Fleming College students…. and  enjoying every minute!


As we recognize International Women’s Day, can you reflect on the challenges you have faced, and how have these affected your involvement in nature conservation? 

Barb and her dogs at Fern Hill, in the snow

Barb and her dogs at Fern Hill

My education was in economic geography. I could see the biggest impact on the environment was “resource” extraction. As part of my PhD thesis, I spent a year in the field in North East Brazil assessing the economic impact of a fiscal incentive scheme. On returning to the Geography Department at McMaster, as the first female PhD candidate in the Department, I found that my thesis adviser was no longer with the Department and my new committee of six men was not happy with the results, claiming it was “not theoretical enough”.  After a six hour defense, I walked out and went to Columbia University to obtain a Master of International Affairs & Business. There I had the incredible experience of being a research assistant to Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson), an early advocate of sustainable development. The book she was writing, with René Dubos, Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet was for the 1972 UN Stockholm conference on the Human Environment. [It had been commissioned by Canada’s Maurice Strong, secretary general of the first (1972) United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and Founding Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).] There is a reason for everything!

What is one of your favourite memories in nature? 

My very first memory was as a 3 ½ year old … the total shock on arriving in Canada from Germany and seeing the house I was to live in … it had no trees! I will never forget that. Eventually I discovered that behind the houses across the street was a tributary of the Don River. There I roamed with a friend until “the street-lights come on”. My summers were spent 45 miles north of Toronto on a Lake Simcoe property, 500 acres purchased by my great grandfather Sir Byron Edmund Walker in 1889 and incorporated as a family not-for-profit land trust, Innisfree Ltd. We grew up there barefoot, swimming, canoeing, sailing and enjoying the De Grassi Point Red Oak Savanna – truly heaven on earth! Ten generations later the property still remains protected through this family land trust. Most recently, my thrill has been working with the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust placing conservation easements over the 300 acres I have acquired over the years. Driven by my passion for Highland cattle and Scottish Deerhounds, dogs that I breed, show, and field course, I purchased my first farm in 1973 and eventually ended up with 200 acres in South Monaghan, and the 100 acre farm my great grandfather built in Innisfil Twp. Now, thanks to the ORMLT, they are all protected in perpetuity!! ♥

What is your vision for nature in Canada?

I simply focus on the joy of helping the land trust community across Canada, saving nature acre by acre.


Patricia peers at a chickadee on a tree branchPatricia Wilson is an environmentalist, community leader and social justice advocate. She is passionate about diversifying the environmental field. In 2021 Patricia founded Diverse Nature Collective (DNC) – a grassroots organization that works to empower, mobilize and create space for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the environmental movement and to reduce barriers to racialized folks in accessing nature. Patricia is also the new Coordinator of Community Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRC) which centers her in anti-racism / decolonization education work and advocacy for BIPOC community members.


As a member of OLTA’s Board, Patricia recently shared her perspectives in a Q and A in celebration of Black History Month. 

What do you enjoy about being on the OLTA Board of Governors?

I get to help support the development of policy and strategic goals that will have a positive impact on Land Trusts across the province – in particular, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) focused goals and policies. I also really love that I get to connect and work with like-minded individuals who have a passion for conservation and for getting as many people involved in this work as possible! 

A group of people with skis on a snowy day

What is one of your favourite memories in nature?

Some of my favourite memories in nature have actually happened over the last couple of years! Through Diverse Nature Collective, I have had the opportunity to collaborate and partner with other BIPOC-led organizations (Let’s Hike TO, Black Canadian Hikers, Black Men’s Therapy Fund, Women of Colour Durham, to name a few) to provide curated nature connection experiences that were created specifically for racialized individuals. This to me has been the most meaningful part of my work because I get to help facilitate programming that brings people together, that builds community, and creates a space that is very intentional in prioritizing the comfort and safety of racialized folks in the outdoors.

What’s your vision for nature in Ontario?

Patricia leads a group of hikersNature is incredible, complex and ever changing with its unique ecosystems that provide shelter, food and life to millions of species and organisms – it doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t act in malice… it just exists. We as humans can learn so much from our natural world and apply it to the ways in which we treat one another.  My vision for nature in Ontario is that more of it is protected and that diverse voices, perspectives and knowledge systems are prioritized at the forefront of conservation efforts so that we can create long lasting and sustainable solutions to protect ourselves and our planet. When we can come together and do this, our natural environment will thrive for decades to come.