Dozens come to plant Indigenous Food Forest in East Vancouver

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Dozens of people gathered on Tuesday, National Indigenous Peoples Day, in Vancouver’s Oxford Park to plant an Indigenous Food Forest filled with plants native to the region.

Bushes of gooseberries, strawberries and salmon berries, yarrows and other native plants, some used for food and some for medicine, will now begin to grow in the park, showcasing the greenery that was once much more common on the west coast.

The project is part of city ​​map to create a sustainable and decolonized local food system, and is a collaboration between community organizations including the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation and the Aboriginal Mother Center Society.

Leona Brown, who is of Gitxsan and Nisga’a descent, works for the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation as the Aboriginal Program Coordinator. She said the new forest will give urban Aboriginal people a chance to taste and learn about the plants that are important in their culture.

An Indigenous Food Forest, made up of plants traditionally used for Indigenous food and medicine, is being planted in Vancouver. (Justine Boulin/Radio-Canada)

The forest also includes a circular gathering space, with logs to sit on, dedicated to children who never returned from boarding schools.

Brown said an elder wanted to create spaces around town where orange wildflowers are planted to commemorate the discovery of allegedly unmarked graves at residential schools across the country.

“All the kids who didn’t come home, all the kids who couldn’t run and break free in the wildflowers,” she said, adding that she intended to organize a separate ceremony to mark this space later.

Leona Brown, Indigenous Program Coordinator for the Vancouver Urban Food Forest Foundation.
Leona Brown says she hopes the forest and gathering area will be a place of healing that fosters decolonization and collaboration. (Justine Boulin/Radio-Canada)

Sarah Cushman, community engagement manager for the Aboriginal Mother Center Society, said the space is for community members, including mothers and elders who access her services, to be together.

“We hope it’s transformative,” she said.

Brown said the idea for the forest was born out of pandemic loneliness

“We were all isolated,” she told CBC’s Melody Jacobsen.

“We were all already depressed and anxious because we come from a boarding school. COVID-19 pushed us further into that and we had no community.”

Colored markers for a garden.
Some of the markers used for planted seedlings in Vancouver’s Oxford Park. (Justine Boulin/Radio-Canada)

Brown hopes the space will be a place where people in the neighborhood can go to be together, outdoors in nature, and that it will improve their mental health and be a source of healing and reconciliation.

On July 10, organizers will hold a ceremony to officially name and bless the space.

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