Officials at the South Nation Conservation authority hope a green space north of Cardinal will prompt reflection on reconciliation with Indigenous people.
The Healing Place is a green space now filled with native plant and tree species for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to come together and reflect on the journey to reconciliation.
Many gathered to the lot on Oct. 14 for the "Remembering the Children" event to plant native and culturally significant trees and plants species, create a children’s garden to remember the children lost from residential schools across Canada, and to share stories to celebrate First Nations culture.
The space was created with intention at the intersection of connections to land and ecological restoration, stated the South Nation Conservation (SNC) authority.
"I think it's a place that people can come and learn and connect," said Ronda Boutz, team lead for special projects at SNC.
The project was originally just a tree-planting initiative, but it became more than that and it was important to bring both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to learn and respect each other, said Boutz.
"That's what we're looking at now, remembering those children that didn’t make it home and for healing practices and purposes for our own communities within the area, not just the Native community but the non-Native community as well, so that’s what today's about," said Chris Craig, senior forest technician and aboriginal liaison for SNC
The 89 acres of community green space are located on the traditional territories of the Algonquin and Mohawk Nations and are a part of the SNC region in Shanly.
The new trees were planted with intention; they form a Medicine Wheel and just off to the side are a children's garden in the shape of a butterfly filled with berries, sweetgrass and more edible plants and herbs that could be used for medicine.
The butterfly children's garden was a new aspect for the Healing Place. The plants were selected to attract pollinator species and because butterflies are often associated with childhood and transformation, said Sarah Craig, project coordinator for the garden.
"When it comes to healing, part of that is transformation. You're transferring grief into healing so to add to that butterflies were a natural choice," said Sarah.
The garden was created to welcome children and was laid out from a child's perspective, with narrow walkways and edible food that is in reach of a child.
"Children I find are really excellent examples of healing," she added. "They know how to manage both joy and sadness at the same time and what better way to remember the children we have lost than thinking about future generations?"
The four pillars of life are represented throughout the Medicine Wheel, with four cardinal directions being represented in the wheel's spokes.
Each direction is marked by a culturally significant tree: Sugar maple in the east, which is where people enter and leave the circle; red oak in the north; white cedar in the south; and white pine in the west.
Seven trees were planted at the inside of the circle and 13 along the exterior to represent the seven Grandfather teachings and the 13 moons.
"All the trees we've planted are significant to both our communities, the Algonquin and Haudenosaunee," said Craig.
The trees that were planted were used on a daily basis, whether it was for food or resources or to build something.
"Each species represents something in our culture," he added.
The Healing Place was created in the fall of last year, through a Reconciliation and Climate Change planting event planned by a group of collaborative partners, who have committed to continued maintenance and expansion of the community space.
The name of the gathering place was originally coined by Abraham Francis, environmental services manager for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
The project came out of the 2019 Assembly of First Nations Climate Change Summit in Yukon, when the idea of offsetting event participants' travel-related carbon emissions through tree planting was born.
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times