Thunderbird House
MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

MCC Manitoba's Indigenous Neighbours program supports a garden project on the property of Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Every week, a small group of teenagers and young adults come together to garden a small plot of land on Main Street and Higgins Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.

The participants, who are all in foster care, weed, plant, tend to and harvest vegetables and herbs that are eaten or used in Indigenous ceremonies by people who live Winnipeg and beyond.

A project participant plants a snowberry bush.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

The garden project is on the property of Thunderbird House, an important spiritual and cultural space for urban Indigenous people. The project was initiated through Indigenous elder consultations to provide outdoor learning opportunities for youth and to complement the sweat lodge healing program by offsetting costs and time used to gather or purchase the medicinal plants use in ceremony.

The project is co-facilitated by Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatawin (OPK) and Action Therapy Winnipeg, two organizations which aim to support at-risk Indigenous young adults and youth. It’s financially supported by MCC Manitoba’s Indigenous Neighbours program and North End Community Renewal Corporation.

The project started four years ago and since then, between 40 and 50 youth and young adults have transformed a space full of waist-high weeds into a beautiful garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Volunteers and youth involved weed and plant in the garden. Participants can't be identified because they are in foster care.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Indigenous Neighbours coordinator, Kerry Saner-Harvey says MCC began funding the garden project in 2014 to support this skills training and youth empowerment project.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for youth to engage with elders, to learn about the land, traditional medicines and, particularly for urban youth, to have an opportunity to reconnect with their roots,” he says. “This is an opportunity they might not have had in their own neighbourhoods.”

Together participants and volunteers tend a growing space that is largely made up of indigenous species including, juniper, sage, Saskatoon berries, currant and cedar. They also grow seasonal vegetables like beets, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Elders join the youth on site every summer to share traditional teachings, lessons about the land and to provide mentorship.

Jason Marsh, a volunteer with the garden project, helps plant seedlings and serves as a mentor for the youth involved.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Jason Marsh, who works with OPK and Action Therapy Winnipeg and has supervised the participating youth for the past year and a half, says the project means a lot to the participants.

“When we get in the vehicle (at the end of the day) they say, ‘that was awesome,’” he explains.

He says gardening is therapeutic and the participants leave feeling empowered.

“They feel like every time they come here they’ve achieved a little more. It’s a good life lesson - they’re learning about life through gardening,” Marsh says.

A project participant holds a tomato he picked from the garden.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Part of that empowerment comes from giving back to the community.

“This is a sacred place,” Marsh says, referring to Thunderbird House. “If you take a look around, you see a lot of poverty around here. What better way to honour these people than to plant these medicines?”

He adds: “If not for MCC, this wouldn’t exist. Instead of plants, it would all be weeds.”

To get involved in the project, contact Jason Dyck at jgdyck@gmail.com

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