BIRDTAIL SIOUX FIRST NATION — Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation held a grand opening for its new Cankaga Otina Wicozani Magah (Birdtail Sioux Healing Garden) Thursday.
Birdtail Chief Lindsay Bunn Jr. said it was an amazing day to see nation members gather together, celebrating the unity and connections that make the community strong.
“It gives a good feeling to your heart,” Bunn said.
As a nation, it was important to honour the survivors and victims of residential schools to ensure their stories are not forgotten, he said. Bunn added he was thankful to the elders and residential school survivors present at the ceremony for sharing their stories during the grand opening.
The celebration spanned generations, and he believes younger nation members will help preserve and learn from this history based on the wisdom passed down from elders.
He added it was a powerful experience seeing nations come together for the ceremony and treat each other as equals, paving a promising road for the future.
The day saw more than a hundred guests gather together, and was attended by SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse.
The day featured an elder prayer, stories from residential school survivors, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a speech from Bunn.
The healing garden is designed to be a space to honour residential school survivors and those impacted by intergenerational trauma, while helping to foster community healing and connections.
One of the major components of the garden is a monument dedicated to Birdtail members forced to attend residential schools. The monument includes all known names of those forced to attend the institutions.
The Birtle Residential School ran from the early 1880s to the 1970s under the guidance of the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church has donated the monument featuring the names of survivors to the healing garden.
Along with the monument, the 225-foot by 100-foot garden includes a pergola, a fire pit, medicine wheel, Indigenous plants, a vegetable garden and sculptures of a bison and eagle.
Bunn said he hopes those who visit the garden will feel good sitting and enjoying the area, helping it become a place to share stories, learn and heal.
“Everyone likes to sit around the fire and share stories of the past ... I imagine going forward a lot of our elders are going to share more history of this place that came to be known as Birdtail,” Bunn said.
The grand opening of the healing garden is an exciting time for the community. For many, reconciliation begins in the community and is driven by pushing for healing and opportunity.
“This is a true step towards reconciliation to heal our community and strive to keep our culture and the culture of the education alive within our people,” Bunn said.
It is important to advocate for First Nations and promote partnerships that can be created with different organizations and companies as an act of reconciliation.
He added these partnerships can also promote economic and social partnerships bringing nations into the fold and helping them to thrive.
Knowledge keeper Glen Bunn appreciates how the community has a place to pass on traditional knowledge like singing, drumming and language to the younger generations in Birdtail.
Birdtail is proud to see the garden completed, he said, and members are looking forward to using it as a way to bring people together and practise traditional teachings.
It is wonderful to have the space because it opens up the opportunity to heal from the wounds and scars left on those who went to residential school.
“We have to let this go. We can’t hang onto yesterday,” Glen said. “We have to forgive these Catholic churches, these Presbyterian churches. It’s us that have to forgive them so there’s no more hanging on to that memory.”
While he did not attend residential school, he can see the lingering harm of the institutions in the nation in the social issues of today.
The key to solving these issues is working together to facilitate healing, he said, and he hopes the garden will serve as a space to generate meaningful action in the community.
He added the space is a great location to promote the use of the Dakota language. He can envision working with youth in the garden to promote Dakota language and traditional teachings using the plants in the garden.
“I’ll bring the class out here and talk to them right in this area,” Glen said.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun