A Garden of Spiritual Healing is taking root at the Snaw-Naw-As Community Health Centre thanks to a partnership between the First Nation and Vancouver Island University (VIU).
VIU’s Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) representatives met with the Snaw-Naw-As Community Garden Committee to develop a vision for the garden. Throughout the process they also spoke to other members of the community during Elder lunches and community events.
“At the beginning this project was meant to provide an opportunity to preserve language and knowledge pertaining to native plant species, but it grew into so much more, including food security, community capacity building, education and outreach, and mental and therapeutic health benefits,” said Graham Sakaki, MABRRI Research and Community Engagement Coordinator.
Construction on the garden began this spring, but the vision for a community garden started long before. Donna Edwards, Health Director of the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre said creating a Garden of Spiritual Healing was a dream of the late Snaw-Naw-As Chief David Bob.
“It was really important for him to have a community garden in our community,” she said.
For Edwards the garden has created an opportunity to connect with her Elders. It also brings her joy to see the Elders out in the garden.
“I feel pride, especially for those Elders who have mobility issues and who I don’t see out too often. To see them out and participating in this is just uplifting to the spirit knowing they are coming out here,” said Edwards.
Edwards said the project has allowed community members to access fresh produce and offers the First Nation opportunities to educate young people about traditional plants. She said soapberries used to grow wild on the traditional lands of the Nation, but due to development they has almost disappeared. It’s one of the traditional plants the Nation hopes to eventually cultivate.
Development of the garden will continue over the next few years. Plans call for the construction of a community gathering place, undercover cooking area, smokehouse, cooking pit, gazebo and a therapeutic garden space. A rainwater capture project to ensure sustainability is also on the table, as well as classes about healthy cooking.
Sakaki said what is most rewarding is how open the community has been to working with MABRRI students and VIU on the project. He said MABRRI’s students are continually seeking feedback and input from Snaw-Naw-As First Nation members to ensure the project is progressing as the Nation envisions.
The first phase of the project was completed thanks to generous donations from the community and granting agencies. Sponsors include the VIU Regional Initiatives Fund, Island Health Community Wellness Program, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, Home Depot Canada Foundation, TimberWest, Cloverdale Paint, Milner Group Ventures, West Coasts Seeds, Rite-on Time Excavating and Trucking and Aquila Cedar (Weatherwise Cedar) Products.
MABRRI and the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation will be seeking funding for the next phase of construction.
Photo Caption: Elder Bonnie Jones and Graham Sakaki, MABRRI Research and Community Engagement Coordinator, plant seedlings in the Garden of Spiritual Healing at the Snaw-Naw-As Health Centre. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University