Dozens of people gathered on Tuesday, National Indigenous Peoples Day, in Vancouver's Oxford Park to plant an Indigenous food forest filled with plants native to the area.
Gooseberry, strawberry and salmon berry bushes, yarrow and other Indigenous plants, some used for food and others for medicine, will now begin to grow in the park, showcasing greenery that was once much more common on the West Coast.
The project is part of the city's plan to create a sustainable and decolonized local food system, and is a collaboration between community organizations including the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation and Aboriginal Mother Centre Society.
Leona Brown, who is of Gitxsan and Nisga'a descent, works for the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation as its Indigenous program coordinator. She said the new forest will give urban Indigenous people a chance to taste and learn about plants that are significant within their culture.
The forest also features a circular gathering space, complete with logs to sit on, dedicated to the children who never returned home from residential schools.
Brown said an elder wanted to create spaces around the city where orange wildflowers are planted to memorialize the discovery of suspected unmarked graves at residential schools nationwide.
"All the children that didn't make it home, all the children who couldn't run around and free in the wildflowers," she said, adding she intends to have a separate ceremony to mark that space at a later time.
Sarah Cushman, community engagement manager with the Aboriginal Mother Centre Society, said the space is meant for community members, including the mothers and elders who access her services, to be together.
"We hope that it's transformative," she said.
Brown said the the idea for the forest was born out of pandemic loneliness
"We were all isolated," she told CBC's Melody Jacobsen.
"We all were already in depression and anxiety because we're descendants of residential school. COVID-19 pushed us further into that and we had no community."
Brown hopes the space will be a place where people in the neighbourhood can go be together, outside in nature, and that it will improve their mental health and be a source of healing and reconciliation.
On July 10, organizers will host a ceremony to officially name and bless the space.