Ottawa Citizen

Mooney’s Bay Park Sunday May 21, 2017. Ashley Fraser / Postmedia

The official unveiling of the new Mooney’s Bay Park is set for Canada Day 2017, but it is already the source of another controversy, this time over what one critic says is cultural insensitivity.

The first controversy arose in 2016 from the lack of public consultation about the new park project. Sue Holloway outdoor fitness park was removed to make way for the $2-million, 4,600-square-metre playground.

Toronto television production company Sinking Ships Entertainment partnered with the City of Ottawa to build the playground, which now consists of 13 structures meant to represent a part of each province and territory’s history.

The building of the park was featured on the TVO children’s show Giver. The show follows kids from across Canada as they work with contractors and volunteers to build the 13 individual play structures.

The latest controversy appears to have arisen over what appear to be totem poles erected on the section of the playground that has a Wild West theme. “Embarrassing! Hard to believe anyone thought it was a good idea,” reads a critical May 20 tweet.

 Mayor Jim Watson’s response via Twitter: “The people who love it are in the thousands of kids who have been playing on it for weeks! Glad we said no to naysayers and accepted this gift!”

“I think that Canada is celebrating 150 in those kinds of ways and in ways that imprint knowledge onto children that is really shameful and unfortunate,” said Lynn Gehl, is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley who holds a PhD in indigenous studies and is an advocate for indigenous rights.

“Canada is supposed to be engaging in nations and nation relationships and in reconciliation and they’re behaving really poorly.”

Canada is building playgrounds that depict indigenous culture in really problematic ways, Gehl said.

Coun. Riley Brockington said in an interview that he had not received a stream of formal complaints, but he said he was aware of the criticisms. He said he had no immediate response indigenous people’s concerns about the playground.

“The builder of the park hired a First Nations adviser to provide them with, I wasn’t part of that process but my understanding was a First Nations person was consulted and questions were asked,” Brockington said.

However, he said he does not know if it the builder consulted a group of first nations or an individual, or what those conversations included.

Gehl said that to use an indigenous participant in the process of planning does not justify what she called a debacle, Gehl said. Building corporations may hire an individual or group of indigenous people that support what they are trying to build and this form of consulting becomes cultural appropriation, she said.

Brockington also said that the park has not been officially opened but has had thousands of visitors. It’s difficult to reflect all cultures or ethnicities that make up our great country, he said.

“Of course there’s going to be a large majority of Canadians who think that place is a lovely place,” Gehl said. “But that doesn’t mean that the 10 per cent of Canadians who understand it as a debacle are wrong. A majority doesn’t make it true.”