|< back to Programs and Services
FIRST NATIONS HOUSE
By June Taylor
The Gardener's Collective and the Native Students Association
(NSA) formed a partnership in 2002. The idea was to create a space where students could learn about growing plants indigenous to North America right on campus. The result is First Nations House Garden- Kahontake Kitikan (Oneida and Anishnaabe), a spiritual place for Aboriginal students to visit and a little piece of Mother Earth under preservation and care that offers a connection to her, as well as to each other.
The NSA and First Nations House (FNH) are directly responsible for the care and maintenance of the garden. Traditional Teacher Mark 'Cat' Criger, Cayuga Turtle Clan from Six Nations, spent several months over the summer working in the space.
"The garden is actually set up in a medicine wheel format," he said. "If you're standing in the centre, there are strawberries in one direction, sage, cedar and tobacco facing the other directions, and with this comes the teachings.
"One of the garden's original purposes was to create the opportunity for "seed sharing" and for people to get together and decide as a group how it would take shape. What came out of this collective process was a cultural exchange between Aboriginal peoples with a chance for students to share their own experiences and teachings around ceremony and history. Another main purpose was to have the space available in order to conduct ceremonies in an open and reflective environment.
"Elders will often go there to do a certain kinds of ceremonies offered to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students with an affinity to learn about our ways in a setting away from an academic classroom setup," Criger said.
Criger explains that the garden has become intrinsic to the students experience at U of T. "It's a tiny piece of the 'reserve' where one can go and sit with their blankets and go through traditional teachings the old way -- outside, sitting on the ground, among the trees, the plants maintaining that spiritual connection to the earth," he said. "It has also gained recognition in other parts of the world. I did a ceremony for southern Indigenous peoples who had been on a long hunger strike. A group of people from South America came and participated in the ceremony."
In October 2010, the garden won recognition from the Native American Plant Society (NAPS), which was presented at their 25th Annual General Meeting. The award honours the preservation of indigenous plants native to North America. In addition, the garden is currently featured in high school textbooks.
Former NSA President John Crouch can be proud of the time and effort he put into the project. "John did most of the work in the garden in the past couple of years but has since graduated and moved on in his career," Criger said.
Cat notes the garden's appeal goes beyond its aesthetics and planning. "It feels so good to be here. It's just a few little plants but it's still a wonderful place to be."