Dialogues - Issue #7
When I think of native species, I have a nostalgic reverie for the plants I grew up alongside. I can vividly recall the dusty yellow clouds of lodgepole pine pollen in the spring, the sting of the wild raspberry bush reminding me that it’s almost harvest time, the feathery fingers of yarrow tickling my bare legs, and the scarlet branches of the red osier dogwood with her velvety white berries. I remember the joy I felt when I came across a new type of fungi, wild flower or pinecone, and the many pockets filled with stones, petrified wood and peculiar seeds that I lovingly carried.
Many biologists, land stewards and horticulturists today recognise the importance of celebrating and protecting our native plant families - the ones who know the language of our soil, nourish local wildlife, and alchemise the elements of the land with which we live. While we seem to have embraced a deeper appreciation for our native plants, historically, the same respect has been denied the native humans of the land we call our home.
Canada’s expansive landscape is woven together by prairie grasses, the Rocky Mountains, old-growth forests, great lakes and rich shorelines; but beneath this spectacular surface, lies a haunting buried history. The Indian Residential School system ran from 1843 to 1996, during which time more than 150,000 Indigenous babies, children, and young adults were stripped of their customs and banned from speaking their native languages. Practicing any aspect of Indigenous culture was forbidden and enforced with brutality. Like other cultural cleansing techniques, these boarding schools were intentionally designed to eliminate the aboriginal ways of life.
Memories of these schools are looming ghosts for survivors and their descendants, and sharing one’s experiences is often much too painful to relive. Countless reports are still being exposed of unimaginable abuse, murder, and trauma inflicted upon our people, with no justice brought to the perpetrators, many of them still alive today. After 153 years, 15 decades, and seven generations of cultural genocide, no one has been held accountable and there is no peace for the survivors.
This year, on 28 May 2021, the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were unearthed in mass un-marked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. This is just the beginning of an extensive and deeply painful reminder to all of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
Canada’s dark and shameful record is an uphill battle to rectify, and the effects of inter-generational trauma as a result are blatantly apparent today. Indigenous communities are still largely discriminated against by non-Indigenous peoples and public authorities, and the absence of these injustices from the school curriculum has fostered a collective ignorance and indifference towards them. This, paired with a lack of government-funded support for survivors and their families, has prevented any long-term reconciliation.
My personal process of reclaiming my Indigenous heritage began 11 years ago, on a family camping trip, when my grandfather brought my cousins and I to the residential school in northern Alberta where he and his siblings attended. He shared stories of the suffering he endured at the school as a young child as we walked among the tall native grasses at the school cemetery where his father was buried. I vividly remember overlooking the vast and distant valley behind the school. As tears welled in my eyes, a lone bald eagle soared overhead. This experience awakened something deep within me; a call to reunite with my roots. Shortly after that, I started studying plant medicines, wild foraging, practicing permaculture and land restoration - it has been a long journey of grief and acceptance that I will never truly know the teachings, the songs, and the ways of my ancestors.
The way forward involves taking personal responsibility to learn the true history of the place we call home, starting with the Indigenous people’s version. We must cultivate healing through open dialogue, compassion, acknowledgement and justice as we honour the inherent beauty and deep devotion of the traditional ways of all Indigenous peoples. We must celebrate the humans who are attuned to the language of Earth and live in harmony with all of nature. Like the native flowers, we will find that their ways are essential to a thriving future: their roots hold the wisdom and their seeds carry the blueprint.
Two Hundred and Fifteen Seeds, Unearthed