Traditional Medicinal Garden Planted at WCI to Raise Awareness of Indigenous Issues

Opening ceremony of WCI’s Indigenous Medicinal Garden, September 22nd, 2020. Photo taken by Ms. Klassen.

A traditional Indigenous Medicinal Garden was planted on WCI’s north-eastern side, in order to promote education about Indigenous history and perspectives within the curriculum. 

The construction took three weeks, starting in late August. The garden was opened in the afternoon on Tuesday, September 22nd, with about 30 WCI teachers and several in attendance.

The opening ceremony featured a smudging – an Indigenous practice wherein smoke from burning herbs is spread around the space to cleanse it, and to open up the positive energy within it. 

It also featured some songs and a prayer, in order to prepare the space for use.

The ceremony was run by Nicole Robinson, a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames First Nation, and the Equity and Inclusion Officer with an Indigenous Focus at the WRDSB, along with her partner, Clarence Cachagee.

Clarence Cachagee preparing for the smudging. Photo by Ms. Klassen.

Ms. Chin, a science teacher at WCI, was at the head of this initiative. The project was completed with funding from both the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and the Tim Walker Memorial Awards, along with the support of Robinson and Mr. Chapman, Vice-Principal at WCI.

When describing her intent behind the garden, Chin said, “I thought [the garden] was a way to use it as a platform for teachers to help indigenize their content.”

Robinson emphasized how vital the education of Indigenous practices is, saying, “Part of the reconciliation is, well, you can’t reconcile with something you don’t know anything about.”

“When we are talking about relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” Robinson continued, “if nothing else, hopefully this will start the dialogue between the Indigenous communities that we have right here in Kitchener-Waterloo and the education system.”

Chin mentioned that the garden would also provide a safe place for relaxation and reflection, as well as a place to be outside: “With COVID, teachers are using it to maintain that distance, to get outside.”

Robinson, Chin and Cachagee, third to fifth from left, among others who attended the opening ceremony. Photo by Ms. Klassen.

Following the garden’s construction, Chin has been helping and supporting teachers within the school to incorporate Indigenous content into their classes: “Some teachers are really trying and doing a great job,” she said.

Chin has also been a part of the Indigenous Students Association, a new group of students, parents and teachers who contribute to awareness events throughout the school year. In the future, she hopes to organize other initiatives to celebrate and honour Indigenous Peoples and commemorate their histories and cultures.

“We’re not trying to pay lip service, not at WCI,” Chin said. “We really want to turn this into action: what can we do to help.”