What is the National Healing Forest Initiative?
It has long been known that forests have a healing, spiritual, calming, and nurturing effect on people. The National Healing Forest initiative is an invitation to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, institutions, and individuals to create green spaces across Canada to honour residential school victims, survivors, and their families, as well as murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and children who have been removed from their families and are now caught in the welfare system.
The goal is for communities and individuals to work together to create a healing forest or green space, whether within urban parks or in rural settings. A healing forest could look different in every community – in addition to being planted with trees to commemorate those who suffered at residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and children who lost their families during the Sixties Scoop, they might include outdoor gathering spaces, walking trails, or plots dedicated to growing sacred plants. A single group might plant a small stand of trees to create their portion of the healing forest. Visiting Elders might present stories, and survivors and their families could share their experiences.
It would be up to each community or individual to decide for themselves what their healing forest would look like and how it would function. The only proviso is that the forest is created and used in the spirit of reconciliation, healing, shared understanding, and respect.
How is a healing forest developed?
Indigenous or non-Indigenous communities can develop their own healing forest ideas and present them to community councils for deeper discussion. Minimal infrastructure is needed – an existing green space could be identified and dedicated as part of the National Healing Forest initiative. A healing forest space could be developed on public, private, or commercial lands.
All resources needed for the healing forest would come from existing community, provincial, or federal programs devoted to reconciliation. The National Healing Forest will provide community organizers with an electronic file that can be used to create and install a National Healing Forest plaque. One can see the plaque design by clicking here. The National Healing Forest will maintain a map of existing and future projects where stories and public outreach efforts can be shared.
Excerpt from the 2019 Massey Lectures presented by journalist Tanya Talaga – Listen to the Q&A which features a question about the National Healing Forest (starting at 18:50):
How did the National Healing Project start?
In 2015, Peter Croal and Patricia Stirbys were on a healing walk in Ottawa which coincided with the release of the Residential School Truth and Reconciliation report. Following that walk, Peter and Patricia agreed to work together to develop the concept of a forested healing space. Today, they are spreading the seeds of this idea across the country.
Patricia Stirbys is a member of Cowessess First Nation (Saskatchewan) and works in the financial sector. Born and raised in Ontario, she holds a Master of Laws degree from the University of Ottawa and has worked with Indigenous communities, industry, and government on a broad range of issues. Her goal is to foster positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that can lead to lasting gains for Canada.
Peter Croal was an exploration geologist for the federal government and later with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), contributing to programs that allowed the development community to better work with Indigenous peoples to create more effective impact assessments and poverty reduction programs around the world.