Pembroke -- The Reconciliation Garden, inaugurated last Wednesday outside the County of Renfrew building, is not only a legacy project at the county but a concrete step towards reconciliation with First Nations people.
Warden Debbie Robinson, who called this a historic moment for the county, pointed out the community continues to be deeply impacted by the discovery of the bodies of children in unmarked graves at the grounds of a former school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has phases linked to the children stolen from their families 118 times.
“As an upper tier government, we lead by example,” she said. “This garden, on public display, is the first step. It can be a beacon of hope and healing, open to all people. It can grow, as can our relationship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
Called Noojimokamig (A Place to Heal), it was a project approved by the Renfrew County council as a response to calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for definitive action and the desire to take steps following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at residential schools across the country.
Located in a highly visible location outside the building, the garden has benches representing the four colours of the medicine wheel – black, white, yellow, red -- and also large boulders to depict the teachings of the seven grandfathers.
The warden noted the county has a long history of friendship with the Algonquin people, “whose unceded territory we inhabit.”
Gardens served to connect people with the traditions and spirits of all people and communities, she noted in reading the proclamation about the garden. The garden is also a testimony of the commitment to the continuing relationship with the Algonquin people, she said.
Aimee Bailey, of Circle of Turtle Lodge, explained the background of the smudging ceremony, noting smudging is for all the senses. The smoke goes to the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the mind and the heart. She smudged both Warden Robinson and CAO Paul Moreau, as well as the grandfathers – the boulders – in the garden.
The grandfathers are represented in the boulders and each has a name, both in Algonquin and English.
“We believe we are related to all things, including rocks and stones, so we often refer to them as grandfathers or grandmothers,” she said.
They appeared in human form at one time and gave the seven teachings. They are love, courage/bravery, truth, honesty, humility, respect and wisdom. Ms. Bailey gave a detailed explanation of each teaching.
“Of these seven teachings, love is the only one that we are born with,” she said. “We also take it with us when we pass on, because those who loved us while we were on our earth walk continue to love us after we go. We can protect our love by being cautious about whom we give it to, but once we see beyond the risk of being hurt, we can love all things.”
Love is our greatest gift from the Creator, she said.
“Make this teaching work in your life. See how you love yourself, your spouse, your family, your community, and our Mother Earth. Always start with yourself – if there is no love there, it will be difficult for you to have it anywhere else.
Growing into adolescence, the second teaching is bravery or courage.
“In a perfect world, this would mean that we are self-confident enough to start taking the normal risks associated with growing up: doing things without our parents, going off to bigger schools, learning how to drive, starting to date, and planning how to accomplish our dreams,” she said. “With each accomplishment, we gain more confidence, and we can set another goal that will stretch our abilities farther still.”
However, few live in a perfect word.
“Sadly, with our spirituality nearly lost, we have little to help us get back on track during adolescence, and as a result, our teenagers take the wrong kind of risks, most of them life-threatening,” she said. “Many of the addictions our people suffer with as adults get started in adolescence to escape from the challenges they face.”
Returning to a positive self esteem can be facilitated with the medicine of the south, which is cedar, she said. Cedar was planted in the centre of the circle. She said it could be used to make a tea, add to bath water or place in the home.
Four of our gifts are often learned by us as adults, which is a good thing, because they are the hardest ones to fully understand, she said.
“Our word for truth is de-bwe-win meaning speaking from the heart,” she said. “The heart has eyes with which it sees the truth in any given situation, based on our lived experience.”
There are absolute truths and personal truths, family truths and cultural truths, she said.
“Today, people seem to think that truth and honesty are the same thing, but closer scrutiny shows they are not,” she said. “Our word for honesty is gwek-waa’-diz-iwin, means owning straightness and light.”
This is associated with goodness and trustworthiness.
“All too often, people try to deny their personal truths by ignoring the lessons that their past has taught them,” she said.
Humility is about equality, just like the circle, Ms. Bailey said.
“Our word for humility, dih-bah-den-diz-ih-win, means to think lower of ourselves in relation to all that sustains us – creation,” she said. “But it is not about demanding a low self-esteem. On the contrary, it is about making yourself the same level as everyone else.”
“Your story is not greater or lesser than anyone else’s, but yours is not the only story, nor is your point of view the only correct one,” she said. “All are equal.”
Once the adult understands that all things are created equal, then respect can be developed, she said.
“But we often confuse respect with admire, making the mistake of putting a person who we respect up on a pedestal,” she pointed out.
However, the teachings of the grandfathers show the person is not higher than others, they are equal.
Wisdom is in the stage of the Elder, which deals with the spiritual aspect of life, she said.
“In this stage of life, we are more comfortable in defining ourselves and our lives – we know what we want, and we go after it,” she said. “We no longer require external approval because we have become whole, which is another way of saying we have finally found what it was the Creator sent us here to do or be.”
It is not simply knowledge, she said.
“It is the clue that helps us start putting the puzzle pieces together. Wisdom is knowledge put into action.”
As part of the ceremony at the conclusion, the Every Child Matters flag was raised on the flagpole at the county building.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader