Sparrow and Finch Gardening Native researchers plant seeds for hope in health and climate

Native researchers plant seeds for hope in health and climate

Indigenous Land-based Learning is a way to hope that is embedded in action. In recent years, this approach has been adopted by several postsecondary institutions both in Canada as well as internationally.

As mixed-ancestry (Hannah), Anishinaabe, and Metis scholars at the University of Guelph, we are focused on this. According to Indigenous knowledge, our health is only as good as the environment. Our research focuses on sustainable food practices that nourish the well-being of “all our relationships:” human beings, land and spirit.

We have created a research program that uses food as the starting point to encourage conversations across social and geographic spaces and to build and renew relationships centered on traditional foodways.

Indigenous pedagogy is based on relationships and labor. We engage Indigenous community partners to work with social science, nutrition, and engineering students on hands-on projects in Indigenous food and medicinal gardens and manomin fields.

We can focus on our long-standing relationships with our home countries and universities while also preparing for the next generation.

“Green shoots grow after a burn.”

Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the land promotes healthy practices and traditions for families and communities. Communities are gaining momentum on and off the reserve, and they want to get involved in creating opportunities that encourage social interaction and learning about food.

Preserving food from the garden during a canning workshop in the fall of 2018. (Hannah Tait Neufeld), Author provided

We have worked with Indigenous faculty and students and a growing network of urbanites to expand gardens on the greater Grand River Territory as well as at the University of Guelph, which is located in the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Attawandaron People. We work together to enhance land-based relationships and local food sovereignty.

Our ongoing research is designed to involve a variety of partners, collaborators, and knowledge users in order to meet community needs. The local Indigenous community has helped establish garden sites at the University of Guelph Arboretum to address food accessibility and knowledge barriers and explore land-based educational practices and education.

Since spring 2018, a group comprised of community members, teachers, and students has planted and nurtured edibles and medicinal plants. The gardens are collectively known as Wisahkotewinowak, which means “green sprouts that grow after fire.”

Organic farm hoop houses and gardens. (Hannah Tait Neufeld), Author provided

The garden brings community agencies together, such as the Grand River Metis CouncilWhite Owl Native Ancestry Association, and Global Youth Volunteer Network. The park has hosted workshops led by elders on medicinal plants and preservation techniques throughout the year.

This project has helped to strengthen intergenerational and regional relationships. Food as a starting place, conversation, and sharing opportunities allow people to share knowledge and forge relationships with the land and each other.

The history of loss can provide clues to regrowth.

Environmental change can sometimes limit the Elders’ ability to transmit traditional knowledge by engaging in hands-on activities, such as planting or harvesting food.

This is true at the Dalles 38C Indian Reserve, where Brittany’s Anishinaabe roots originate. Downstream and upstream dams control the flow into and out of the Winnipeg River that runs through the reservation.

Hydroelectric development has altered the water depths in manomin habitats (wild rice). They continue to fluctuate during the growing seasons and do not match the natural patterns that manomins are adapted to.

The discharges of upstream sources also affect sediment and water quality. The community of Kenora and a former pulp and paper mill that ceased operations in the 2000s are among these sources.

A dragonfly on a manomin in July 2018. (Brittany Luby), Author supplied

Researchers from the University of Guelph partnered with the Economic Development Committee of Dalles 38C Indian Reserve in order to identify the factors that limit the growth of the manomin and develop management strategies for controlling these factors.

Interviews and river tours help to understand the historical relationship between urban discharge, water fluctuations, and the growth in manomin.

Youth involved in research can learn that combining manomin knowledge with recent observations of riverine changes will help them to see how histories of loss could be clues for regrowth. The new lens allows for a more future-oriented perspective on the Winnipeg River, which challenges the nature and longevity of settler-industrial environments.

Youth can imagine a productive Anishinaabe space in a field that has been compromised.

All Our Relations

The University’s research and teaching projects, such as the Wisaktowinowak garden and the wild rice project, provide new opportunities for youth to interact with Elders. This is done both on campus – by planting seeds – and in Anishinaabe lands – through the revival and harvesting of traditional Anishinaabe methods.

The land is what brings us together. It’s also the place that teaches us about natural systems and food through a relationship-based approach.

With the increase in post-secondary education that is land-based, we could change the way future generations see our environment and the future it unfolds.

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