Cardston Healing Garden closer to reality

·3 min read

A group of young adults who attended Cardston High School will soon see the first phase completed for a healing and educational project they began in school three years ago. In 2018, Kaydence Bird, Nicky Gros Ventre Boy, Cashius Hungry Wolf, Barry Iron Shirt, Avery Many Bears, Tommy Russell, Brody Scout, Acacia Soop, Sineese Twigg, and Kobe Shot Both Sides worked with their teacher, Mrs. Kara Baldwin, to initiate the creation of a monument and healing garden for downtown Cardston.

The monument is being built in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Initiative regarding the Residential School System, to “facilitate reconciliation among former students, their families, their communities, and all Canadians” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada). The Residential School system was a Canada-wide system of mandatory boarding schools for indigenous children, where they were stripped of their culture, stolen from family, and in some cases suffered terrible abuse. In 2008 the Canadian government offered a public apology and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to uncover the truth of what happened in the residential schools. The TRC’s final report included 94 calls to action which urge all levels of government, and other bodies, to work together to repair the harm done.

The original team of students who began Cardston’s monument initiative were also drawn to the project as a way to share the truth of the Baker Massacre after learning about the horrific attack that took place in 1870. The Massacre took place near Shelby Montana when Major Eugene Baker and his regiment attacked a peaceful Blackfeet camp consisting mainly of elderly women and young children, murdering over 200 people. During further research, the students learned Natohkyiaaki (Holy Bear Woman) was one of the children who survived the Baker Massacre. Today, thousands of her descendants are members of the Kainai People or the Blood Tribe, and many also live in the Town of Cardston. The monument is meant to honour both the living and the dead, victims of the massacre and of the residential schools.

Atop the monument will sit a bronze-coated clay buffalo, and on the sides writing in both Blackfoot and English with statements regarding the residential school system and the Bakers Massacre. The team of students consulted with Blackfoot Elders to ensure the monument was culturally appropriate as they chose the design, the words on the engraving, and the placement of the structure in the community. The group was able to raise approximately $2,500 of the near $68,000 monument in personal donations, and also received generous grants. Baldwin shares “there will be a ceremony before the ground is even dug, for an indigenous blessing. We are trying to coincide the event with Native Honour Night or Cultural Awareness week at the School after the statue is completed in May.”

The Town of Cardston has worked as a partner in the initiative, along with other stakeholders, and set aside land just off of Main Street for the project in 2019. The town still accepts donations on behalf of the group for the creation of the healing garden that is phase two of the plan. Baldwin shares that “the funding we acquire going forward will determine the scope of the second phase of the project, which we hope includes benches and gazebos.” The healing garden was inspired by a similar project in Saint Albert that was completed in 2017, and was amongst the first of its kind in Canada. Now working with a second group of students, Baldwin and her team hope “to raise enough funds to create a place for people to come together to connect, to learn about the past, and to feel peace and healing.”

Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star