David Suzuki Foundation partners with National Healing Forests Initiative to promote reconciliation, rewilding
TORONTO | Traditional territory of many nations – including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples – and now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples — A network of healing forests honouring residential school victims, survivors and families, and dedicated to promoting reconciliation is about to get a lot bigger. Starting today, the David Suzuki Foundation is partnering with the National Healing Forests Initiative (NHFI) to help establish green spaces throughout the country that will capitalize on the healing power of nature, in more ways than one.
“Science has proven what we all intrinsically know, that spending time in nature is good for your health,” said Jode Roberts, manager of the Rewilding Communities program at the David Suzuki Foundation. “But now, it’s also a deliberate act of reconciliation.”
Over the past six years, the NHFI has grown to include 10 green spaces dedicated to reconciling Canada’s dark past. From Gibsons, B.C. to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, communities have set up dedicated green spaces big and small to offer people a chance to learn about and honour victims of residential schools and begin their own personal journey toward healing.
“This country can’t move forward in a meaningful way until each of us takes up the challenge of reconciliation,” said Patricia Stirbys, a Saulteaux Cree and non-practising lawyer from Saskatchewan who co-founded the NHFI along with geologist Peter Croal in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report in 2015. “By establishing a healing forest, anyone can take that first step to bring people together, help them reflect on this country’s tragic past, and connect with nature and each other.”
At one healing forest in Albert Bridge, Cape Breton, students at Riverside School have developed a two-kilometre interactive path through the forest next to the school, called the Knowledge Path. It’s home to a healing forest. Students have invited Indigenous elders to share their stories. Along the path, which is decorated with student-built birdhouses and flower gardens, signs with QR codes also allow visitors to learn more about the plants around them in English and Mi’kmaw.
Similar to the Knowledge Path and healing forest at Albert Bridge, all healing forests are created through meaningful relationships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. These relationships, as well as the healing forest spaces, are meaningful steps to reconciliation.
“The healing forest project is important,” said Eugene Arkand, a residential school survivor. “It will help survivors and their families with healing and reconciliation.”
The David Suzuki Foundation is providing seed grants to people and groups that want to establish healing forests in 10 communities. It will be hosting a webinar on May 1 for anyone who wants to learn more.
“We are all feeling the loneliness of Covid lockdowns,” said Roberts. “Healing forests counter that, by bringing community and connection. We’re thrilled to partner with the NFHI to rekindle people’s love, understanding and respect for each other and the planet.”
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The David Suzuki Foundation (DavidSuzuki.org | @DavidSuzukiFdn) is a leading Canadian environmental non-profit organization, founded in 1990. We operate in English and French, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We collaborate with all people in Canada, including First Nations leadership and communities, governments, businesses and individuals to find solutions to create a sustainable Canada through scientific research, traditional ecological knowledge, communications and public engagement, and innovative policy and legal solutions. Our mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.
The National Healing Forests Initiative (nationalhealingforests.com) aims to create a network of forests and green spaces across Canada where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can come together in the spirit reconciliation to heal, reflect, meditate, talk, share, and build respect and understanding as a result of the Residential School legacy and the findings of the National Truth and Reconciliation report.