One year after breaking ground on the traditional healing garden, the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre and members of the community saw it up close for the first time as it’s now open.
Executive Director Miranda Laroche says the garden means a lot to the Indigenous community.
“This is very emotional. It has been a very long year with lots of hard work, but it’s so worth it. The garden is beautiful and calming. I already feel the healing happening.”
President Len Auger is glad to be able to celebrate a moment like this with the community and invites anyone to come out to visit the garden.
“We have both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples here, which is good. This is all part of reconciliation. When our pergola is done, people can sit here, watch, and see our traditional medicines being grown. The more people understand our traditions and ceremonies, that means another small step towards reconciliation,” he says.
Planning for the garden began three years ago when the organization applied for funding, but everything was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Laroche feels it was worth the wait.
“We are here and it’s amazing. Indigenous Peoples are very in tune with mother nature and with our mother earth. We also wanted to bring a place where our elders could go for ceremonies and start healing from residential schools,” she says.
One of the features of the garden is a pergola in the middle, which represents the medicine wheel. Some things are already growing, with more on the way.
“When we talk about medicine, we talk about things that grow naturally in this area. Everything that is grown here in the garden can be eaten essentially. We have herbs, berries, and vegetables,” says Laroche. “For medicines, we’re growing sweetgrass, sage, and tobacco. Eventually, we want to be able to make medicines from what we’re growing here.”
The garden space is not just about agriculture and Laroche explains that there is more to come.
“We’ll have a ceremonial firepit where Indigenous Elders can hold ceremonies here. It is also a place where we can have talking circles. Our goal is to invite Elders to perform ceremonies for the purpose of healing from residential schools. A teepee will be added facing the east and an arbour is coming too. This is just the beginning,” she adds.
“We have to take on a leadership role on the path to reconciliation. We’re very proud that we’ve been able to welcome all people into the Friendship Centre,” says Auger. “Years ago, we were only open to Indigenous Peoples. Anyone is welcome to come here, take part in the ceremonies, and learn more about our culture.”
The garden is open every day from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Access may be granted after hours in the evening by contacting the Friendship Centre. Funding came from different sources, including the Canadian Heritage Fund, and Community Impact Grant, and donations came in from people in the community.