What was once 10 acres of weeds in the Breslau area became a symbol of partnership on last month’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
That day saw volunteers from local churches and the Anishnabeg Outreach, which provides culturally appropriate services for Indigenous residents in the region, harvesting a garden they planted together in June.
The Eminidowang Kitigaan (Spirit Garden for Everyone), located on property owned by the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, included traditional Indigenous squash, sage and tobacco. The food will be used to support the 450 families for whom Anishnabeg Outreach provides services.
For CEO Stephen Jackson this is “an important first step in reconciliation.”
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“It’s all about overcoming the challenges related to reconciliation, the intergenerational trauma, all those issues, and for us, reconciliation is simply healing and helping people become economically independent. It’s about relationships. It’s about building bridges,” Jackson said.
Along with the local Catholic Church, representatives from the United and Presbyterian churches were also present. Although all of these churches took part in the residential school system, reconciliation is about healing not justice, Jackson added.
“Justice for residential school systems would freeze you in the past, but [it] would never get you to healing. Food gets you to healing. Partnership gets you to healing. Relationships gets you to healing,” he said. “Look at all these people and what they’re doing today, some people are sorting food, some people are gathering food… So, to me, that is reconciliation.
“If we get stuck in the past, we’ll never get to the present or the future.”
Fr. Toby Collins of St. Mary’s Parish said the garden is a tangible way to help build relationships while also learning about and processing difficult occurrences from the past.
“By having different groups here – who are Indigenous peoples, who are from the Catholic Church, and some from both – it’s just been a great opportunity to learn and to grow together about things that we didn’t know, and things that we can make a difference about now that we know differently,” Collins said.
As many are still coping with the discoveries of unmarked graves at the residential schools, it is important to acknowledge the role churches had in the system, he added.
“I think in any organization, there are things that are done that are hurtful to other people. And in order to better the organization to move forward, you’ve got to be truthful about those moments and do what you can to express sympathy, to change things within the system. So that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
The garden also provided a fundraising opportunity for Anishnabeg Outreach, which is selling pumpkins grown in the garden in exchange for donations to the organization.
“We grew them because…orange shirts or orange shirt pins, things like that. The idea is that people can make a donation and get a charity pumpkin for Halloween and display that proudly on their doorstep. … Hopefully we will recoup the money that we spent on doing all the farming getting all the equipment, everything else that we can,” Jackson explained
Taking what it learned this year Anishnabeg Outreach has bigger plans for the garden next year. That includes working with Conestoga College to put medicine gardens at early childhood education locations across the region.
“Think about what that’s going to mean. All the children in the region will see that as part of their growing up experience,” Jackson said.
Collins said he hopes this leads to more partnerships between churches and Indigenous people in the region.
“We’re all in this together in trying to find our way forward. We really don’t know where it’s going to lead, but we keep trying and we listen to each other, we learn from each other,” he said.
This is just the beginning, Jackson said.
“Can you imagine if all of these people here went on to do other activities or other partnerships, reconciliation, what that would amount to?”