Wabanaki Healing Garden hopes to grow knowledge of Indigenous plants, customs

·3 min read
Elders Cecelia Brooks and Maggie Paul look at plants during the grand unveiling of a healing garden in Fredericton on Saturday. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)
Elders Cecelia Brooks and Maggie Paul look at plants during the grand unveiling of a healing garden in Fredericton on Saturday. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)

Odell Park is now home to the Wabanaki Healing Garden.

Close to 30 people attended the official opening of the garden on Saturday in Fredericton.

The garden, in the works for three years, was the brainchild of Cecelia Brooks, an elder from St. Mary's First Nation, and her son, Anthony Brooks.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

"One of the things that Anthony and I talked about was the reconciliation process here in Canada, and that we truly believe that it's the grassroots people that will initiate that and carry that," said Cecelia Brooks.

"We feel like some of the misunderstandings that happen are because there's not a clear understanding of our culture and our history. So that's what we do. We teach them [settlers] about the medicines ...  our hope is that will aid in that reconciliation process."

Growing the garden took several years due to factors like transplanting some plants from different biomes and treating soil to add nutrients and minerals.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

"When we first started, the plan was to have plants here that we wouldn't see on our walks, normally," Anthony Brooks said.

"We have one that's more coastal … one's sort of a pine forest, and one is more of a field area, which none of this would occur naturally in an old growth forest like this."

The garden is home to goldthread, blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, multiple types of willows, sweet fern, blue flag iris, lady's slipper and wintergreen.

Andrew Brooks said he considers all of the plants in the garden to be sacred.

Cecelia Brooks spoke about the plants best known as four sacred medicines.

Four is considered to be a sacred number as it represents the directions of north, south, east and west. Tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar each have different spiritual meanings.

Brooks spoke about a special, older variety of tobacco that is being grown in the garden.

"We have tobacco, which is not the tobacco that is used in smoking cigarettes, but it's a old species of tobacco that our ancestors grew and smoked and used in ceremony."

Maggie Paul, a Passamaquoddy elder and song carrier, conducted a ceremony to commemorate the opening of the garden by reciting the Creator and Welcome songs.

She spoke about the sacredness of plants when recalling how that teaching was passed down to her from her mother.

"I grew up with the sweetgrass and this is what we used to pick for my mom. She used to braid sweetgrass and sweetgrass braiders lived in Maine and in Canada."

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

Cecelia Brooks said visitors are encouraged to visit and touch the plants.

But visitors should not take them, but instead leave with more knowledge about Indigenous cultures.

"We've created this garden so that everyone can enjoy it and it's not intended for people to come here to pick medicines or to dig up and take samples," she said.

"We'd be happy to share but I feel like if everybody were to come in and take one leaf, we might not have much of a garden left."

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