Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan National Healing Forest Project on the corner of St. Clair W. and Rushton Road in Toronto, Ontario grew out of the work of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group (IPSG) at St. Matthew’s United Church. Founded in 2018 in response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, IPSG members have roots in the Four Directions—the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, and Europe. Those members with North American Indigenous heritage have family stories that show the impacts of colonial displacement and cultural loss, whether by the disenfranchisement of Indigenous women who married into non-Indigenous families or by the impoverishment of reserve communities that pushed families to travel—sometimes across the country—to pursue work.
A core group of 20 stewards the greenspace beside the church, which now includes dozens of native species of plants. In 2020, a Territorial Acknowledgement was installed street-side, and a Food and Traditional Medicine Garden planted. Because the 4 Sacred Medicines grew so well that first year, Elder Peduhbun Migizi Kwe/Catherine Brooks (Nipissing FN) named the greenspace Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan—Healing Garden. When we heard about the project at All Saint’s Anglican and First United in Ottawa, she encouraged us to join the National Healing Forest initiative as Toronto’s first project.
Generous donors and a federal grant meant that we could hire 2-Spirit Anishinaabe conceptual artist, Bert Whitecrow, and gardener Olivia Dziwak to create commemorative earth works at the north end of our greenspace: a winding, pebbled pathway to a conversation circle of upturned logs and, along the sidewalk, moon-shaped rain gardens. The design—together with Bert’s painting “Ode’min Giizas;” an “Every Child Matters” memorial after Haida artist, Tamara Bell; and a red dress after the REDress Project of Metis artist, Jaime Black—make clear the focus on victims and survivors of residential schools; missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, 2-Spirit, and trans people; and survivors of destructive child welfare policies.
From the perspective of Elder Catherine and other Elders and Traditional Teachers who advise us—such as Elders Asayenes/Dan Smoke (Seneca, Six Nations) and Mary Lou Smoke (Batchawana Bay FN)—coming together on the Land with the intention of healing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is crucial to Right Relations. Explicitly designating public greenspaces such as Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan as places for this healing to take place is the vision the National Healing Forest initiative offers us all.
For more information about our Project and the many other activities organized by the IPSG—including collaborations with Miinikaan Innovation & Design and the Community History Project’s sites in West Toronto—see: https://www.stmattsunited.com/indigenous-people-s-solidarity-grou
Photos courtesy Olizia Dziwik and Marcelle St. Amant.