Independent Curator William Kingfisher, shares his inspiration for planting an Anishinaabe Garden behind the Art Gallery of Peterborough
In June 2010, I curated an art project with a gitigaan (garden) as the central space. Through many partnerships and collaborators, the land behind the Art Gallery of Peterborough played host to ayaandagon: outdoor art installations in an anishinaabe garden. Among indigenous plants, the show featured three outdoor installations by anishinaabe artists Michael Belmore, Jude Norris, and Jimson Bowler.
The word ayaandagon, as an Elder explained it to me, means “to be in a certain place.” She told me that this perspective emphasizes the relationships we have with other humans, the animals, plants and the spiritual beings that inhabit a particular place. Relationships are important, as the anishinaabe concept behind the word bimaadiziwin (the art of living in a proper way) reminds us. How we dwell in this world depends on the good relations we have with a particular landscape.
I wanted the garden to be a space where relationships would be revealed – relationships between the self and the land, the garden and the installations, between the materials used, the water and land, the past and the present. We were doing what our ancestors did on this site and by using our physical bodies to do similar activities, we remember and connect with them. While working in the gitigaan I learned that this often would take form through the sharing of stories.
To begin the garden, one of the first things I was told to do was to honour both the water of Little Lake and the water used for the plants and trees with ceremony. Water was gathered on the full moon and I collected pennyroyal, a woman’s herb, to boil up as a tea. In the ceremony we all shared the tea and the rest was placed on the ground around the site. The Elder spoke to us about honoring the importance of water and provided instructions on how to properly plant the flowers and herbs. She reminded us that we needed to speak to them as we planted.
I was asked by the Elders who helped advise me in the gitigaan to plant strawberry, pennyroyal, tobacco, and wild rice. The rest of the plants were to be my choice but I was to make sure I planted some bright flowers to bring colour to the gitigaan. The other plants I chose, not only because they were local, but also for their medicinal properties and as a food source for both birds and butterflies.
My intention for this project was that by bringing art outside the usual gallery space, there was an opportunity to gain experiential understanding of the environment and our place in it. The simple act of being outside, working together, laying some stones, bending some branches, fastening some wood, putting hands on the earth could then be shared. Stories were told, connections were made and we created an experience for all to enjoy.
Like most of Peterborough, this place is an old portage site; a place to rest before the upcoming journey, a place to wait, to think, to remember the previous journey and plan for the next one. When our ancestors came out of the water onto this site I imagine there would have been a time where the night was coming and they needed to cook some food and build a place to keep warm. They used this site to help them sustain life. We looked to the site for something similar and through the acts of making a dwelling, a garden, and marking the land, we leave traces of our experience while connecting us to something larger. Creating something together helps us all be bemahdeze (alive).
n’ode mnamji’o dakiimi: my heart feels the earth