Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Plant diversity workshop and medicine plant walk provide Indigenous perspectives in planning

Plant diversity workshop and medicine plant walk provide Indigenous perspectives in planning

On Friday, May 20th 2022, Professor L. Anders Sandberg and fourth-year student Baillie Weiderick, both from the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University, and Brian MacLean of Lost Rivers travelled together to attend and learn from a plant diversity workshop and medicine plant walk, hosted by Indigenous Elders and Anishinaabe teachers. The workshop was co-hosted by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) and the Credit Valley Trail (CVT) Indigenous Roundtable and held at CVC’s Island Lake Conservation Area in Orangeville. They were there at the invitation of CVC’s Natalie Faught who is the Senior Coordinator to the Credit Valley Trail Project as well as lead coordinator of Indigenous Engagement for the environmental organization.

The group gathered at the Island Lake Conservation Area. Photo credit: Natalie Faught

The Credit Valley Trail is a unique and precedent-setting project in development for more than 60 years and a collaborative project led by Credit Valley Conservation, one of Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities. The work to achieve the vision of a continuous 100km trail, weaving along the Credit River and surrounding valley lands, is carried out in partnership with several Indigenous, communities, municipal and regional partners, including, the Credit Valley Trail Indigenous Roundtable, made-up of several Indigenous communities central to the Credit Valley Trail, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat/Wyandot(te). The pathway honours the sacred waters and Indigenous communities that have stewarded the area for many years. Seven key sites have been identified along the future trail, centering around a different Doodem (animal representing various Anishinaabe clans) at each site, as well as other culturally significant markers and signage; speaking to the current and historical significance of design elements at each site.

Part of broader Indigenous Experience Planning along the CVT, the Plant Diversity Workshop was led by CVT Indigenous Roundtable member, Dr. Jonathan Ferrier of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and Joe Pitawanakwat. Along with MCFN education and community involvement, Ferrier is also a biology professor at Dalhousie University. Like Ferrier, Joe Pitawanakwat is also Anishinaabe and from Wikwemikong - unceded Indigenous territory on Manitoulin Island.  Pitawanakwat is a plant medicine educator and director of ‘Creators Gardens’ – a outreach education business focused on teaching plant medicine. The workshop celebrated the commencement of the construction of the Crane Space, the very first of seven community gathering spaces along the Credit Valley Trail.

Elder Garry Sault and Joe Pitawanakwat addressing the group. Photo by Natalie Faught

The workshop opened with a ceremony led by Elder Garry Sault of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and introductions by the group. Dr. Jonathan Ferrier and Elder Garry took some time to speak about the responsibilities of individuals and communities towards plants. Plants, as Elder Garry explained, have their own spirit and each must be protected. They ensure access to ‘the good life’, and so it is the responsibility of each individual to understand the value of making friends with the plant - understanding when to harvest each medicine, how to prepare it, and how to treat plants in a good way. A relational connection exists with each plant, and another participant spoke to how the presence of certain medicinal plants may be used in archaeology to indicate the existence of previous Indigenous homesteads - a longstanding relationship that exists to this day.

Pitanawaknat led participants through the Sugar Bush Trail, a balmy breeze shaking the leaves of a white aspen as he paused in front of it. Weiderick recalls Pitawanakwat running a hand across its trunk, his palm dusted with a fine white powder, explaining that aspen has a symbiotic fungus living on its bark that produces zinc oxide, a mineral used as a natural sunscreen. Pitawanakwat asked participants to observe the dancing, flashing leaves and listen to the rain-like sounds they made as they moved, and surmise what that might mean about the properties of the plant. You already know each plant, he said, if you can be more present with it. Pitawanakwat leads education programming through his center, Creator Gardens, teaching Anishinaabemowin names and uses for medicinal plants - a skill he learned from his grandmother that is preserving the future of Anishinaabe language, medicines and knowledge.

The white powder that covers the white aspen provides a natural sunscreen

Pitawanakwat led participants through the Sugar Bush Trail, a balmy breeze shaking the leaves of a white aspen as he paused in front of it. Weiderick recalls Pitawanakwat running a hand across its trunk, his palm dusted with a fine white powder, explaining that aspen has a symbiotic fungus living on its bark that produces zinc oxide, a mineral used as a natural sunscreen. Pitawanakwat asked participants to observe the dancing, flashing leaves and listen to the rain-like sounds they made as they moved, and surmise what that might mean about the properties of the plant. You already know each plant, he said, if you can be more present with it. Pitawanakwat leads education programming through his center, Creator Gardens, teaching Anishinaabemowin names and uses for medicinal plants - a skill he learned from his grandmother that is preserving the future of Anishinaabe language, medicines and knowledge.

Pitawanakwat, Ferrier and Elder Garry seamlessly wove together their stories, histories, legends, and knowledge of plants as the group walked - aspen, wild ginger, birch, trefoil, bloodroot and jack-in-the-pulpit- all relatives, all medicines. Sandberg wonders whether the Credit Valley Trail and its Indigenous Experience Implementation Plan speaks to ways in which other jurisdictions, including York University, could work collaboratively with Indigenous communities in a way that centers Indigenous voices and respects the significance of geographical landmarks and locales. All areas in the Toronto region have current presence and historically significant landmarks of Indigenous peoples. How could those relationships be made clear and uplifted at York University?

Categories: