Food forest: a place of healing, reconciliation
- EFN Staff | October 18, 2017
Three generations of women from two Indigenous families have come together to create a space for learning, healing and reconciliation on the Saskatchewan prairie.
Located beside Manitou Lake, the Food Forest is a pristine 50-acre parcel of land with an abundance of the natural foods and herbs of the prairies.
The Learning Centre, established inside an old church in Viscount, hosts home-school classes, gardening workshops, events, as well as a living area that can temporarily house families in distress.
The Food Forest and Learning Centre Co-operative is the outcome of these two special places connected to a strong vision for how the two spaces might work together.
Maggie Bluewaters, her daughter and granddaughter, as well as three generations from a Montreal Lake First Nation family, are the founding members. Together, they make up what Bluewaters refers to as a “powerful pack of women.”
Between them the founding members have backgrounds in education, health care and social work, as well as knowledge of traditional ceremonies. Bluewaters said the co-operative is “a fusion of our experiences.”
Before Bluewaters acquired the Food Forest land from the rural municipality – a process that took seven years – the land had been used as a “dumping ground and party place.” Truckloads of garbage had to be hauled away to restore it to its original state.
On this restored land, and beside the world-famous “healing waters” of Manitou Lake, the co-operative plans to build a bathhouse for Elders and people with ailments. They also envision a gathering place and educational nature walks.
“There’s sweet grass, every kind of sage, rosehips, June berries (aka Saskatoon berries), gooseberries, pin cherries, chokecherries, wild raspberries, it’s a haven of food,” said Bluewaters. “It’s a literal food forest.”
The vision for the project came to Bluewaters as she was forming a piece of clay in a sculpture class. Since that day, she has dedicated 17 years to organizing founding members, negotiating bureaucracy, purchasing and fixing an old church, restoring the land and finally incorporating the co-operative.
During the 1960s to 80s, thousands of First Nations, Métis and Indigenous children were taken from their homes, families, languages and cultures, and systematically adopted into non-Indigenous homes. Bluewaters was one of these children.
So, the creation of the Food Forest and Learning Centre is a “personal work of reconciliation” for Bluewaters.
“I am a product of that assimilation program,” Bluewaters said, “I lost my identity, even my very name, my language and my culture.”
Creating this organization has been central to Bluewaters’ healing process as she has sought to reconnect with her culture, language and traditional ways. Bluewaters said, despite “unpleasant” memories of her early days in the rural area, she also wanted to “make friends again with rural Saskatchewan.”
Restoring the land to a pristine state, and returning to the land and waters of Manitou, has been a long journey for Bluewaters.
But she’s not done. The co-op’s founders are “very excited” to be in the process of incorporating the water of Manitou Lake through a year-round healing bathhouse, and are looking to partner with Nations interested in supporting the project.