Scotchfort Reserve, PEI
Atlantic Canada’s first Healing Forest, located on Prince Edward Island’s Scotchfort Reserve, was developed by Brendan Kelly and Leigh Gustafson in partnership with Roddy Gould from Abegweit First Nation.
On August 1, 2019, Elder Stephenson Joe graciously opened the public tree planting event by offering a prayer. Over 150 native trees and shrubs were planted by 60+ Indigenous and non- Indigenous community members. People from all walks of life, from kids attending Wild Child Forest School and Tiny Tots day care to Indigenous Youth groups and community members to Island Nature Trust staff, joined to learn from one another and grow together. Chief Gould, Senator Brian Francis, and Senator Kim Pate even stopped by to get their hands dirty. After all the trees were planted, volunteers enjoyed a BBQ provided by the local Co-op at the Abegweit Wellness Center.
A walking trail, fire circle, and handcrafted benches made by a local community member were also built among the trees. The project will expand to include an interpretive trail with signs explaining the seven sacred teachings to encourage self-reflection, mindfulness, and healing. Native wildflowers will also be planted in the understory of the forest to be harvested and used in traditional practices.
The development of this Healing Forest revitalized a vacant plot of land that was previously home to the childcare centre. Now clients of the neighbouring Wellness Centre have a beautiful green space where they can host holistic healing sessions, engage in talking circles by the sacred fire, or just sit and talk while surrounded by traditional medicines.
In the near future, Abegweit will incorporate this Healing Forest with other tourism opportunities that will educate enquiring minds about the unique methodology used by First Nations during our healing process. Unfortunately, the legacy of the residential school system and the effects of assimilation on Indigenous Peoples is not something commonly taught in school.
Prior to learning about the National Healing Forest initiative, Brendan and Leigh, who are both non-Indigenous, had known very little about the rich Indigenous cultures and traditions that form the foundation of Canadian history. Since joining in the journey to reconciliation the pair have felt intense joy and sense of community at Powwows, learned about the governance systems and resilience of Indigenous Peoples, and found life-long friendships.
We would like to thank the many people and organizations who made this wonderful project possible, especially Roddy Gould, Abegweit First Nation; Students On Ice; TakingItGlobal; Arbor Nursery Ltd.; and Island Nature Trust. To get in touch with Brendan, Leigh, or Roddy please email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org