TORONTO | TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MISSISSAUGAS OF THE CREDIT, ANISHNABEG, CHIPPEWA, HAUDENSOAUNEE AND WENDAT PEOPLES — Two years ago, the National Healing Forests Initiative teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation to take meaningful action toward truth and reconciliation. This year, the team is proud to announce that another 33 Healing Forest initiatives across Canada will receive support from the Foundation to help transform local green spaces into places that foster community wellbeing.
Healing forests embody our spiritual connection to the land. They provide a place to heal colonial traumas while embracing the natural world we all share.
“Healing Forests mark Canada’s troubled history, ensuring the past and present systemic issues are not forgotten, while offering Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members a safe space to collectively move forward,” says Patricia Stirbys, Saulteaux Cree from Saskatchewan (Cowessess First Nation), an Indigenous relations specialist and NHFI co-founder.
Healing Forests are rooted in reconciliation, involve local Indigenous communities and highlight native trees, plant species and biodiversity. Additional common features are traditional healing gardens, walking trails, seating for community reflection and signage showcasing Indigenous knowledge.
With 16 established Healing Forests across Canada, it’s heartwarming to see the project take flight with another successful year of applicants interested in joining the movement that is NHFI.
“It is the nature of a forest to heal. Reconciliation is best respected in outdoor natural spaces where people can be connected to nature and each other in meaningful ways,” says NHFI co-founder Peter Croal.
One of the initiatives the Foundation is supporting this year is the Payhonin National Healing Forest in Sturgeon County, Alberta, opening on September 30, 2023, in commemoration of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This new Healing Forest was championed by respected Elder Bill Bertschy of the Standing Bear Clan and horticulturist Tam Andersen, who offered the old-growth parkland boreal forest on her farmland as a gesture of solidarity with Indigenous communities.
“I was inspired to collaborate with Elder Bill Bertschy, Rising Thunder and Prairie Gardens because I believe in forest conservation and active reconciliation,” Andersen says. “The National Healing Forests Initiative merges these passions while fostering community connections outdoors.”
The Payhonin National Healing Forest boasts trails with Elder Bill’s totem poles conveying the Seven Grandfather Teachings, as well as sacred medicinal plants and outdoor spaces for ceremonies, drumming circles, teachings and reflection.
This is one of 33 projects joining the growing national network of Healing Forests in 2023. From over 120 applicants, these groups were selected to receive support for their participation in a series of online networking workshops hosted by the Foundation and NHFI. Projects are on First Nations reserves, urban and rural farms, public parks, university campuses, land-based learning labs and a national historic site. Each of these projects inspires a tangible, emotional and spiritual path toward reconciliation.
“These 33 Healing Forest projects are remarkably diverse examples of how communities can tackle issues of reconciliation and conservation,” says Foundation Rewilding Communities manager Jode Roberts. “From rural farms and boreal woodlands to urban parks and university campuses, healing forests offer creative ways to reconnect with nature and create spaces for reconciliation and healing.”
Stories about a few of the 33 new projects are highlighted on the David Suzuki Foundation website.
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The Healing Forest projects receiving support from the David Suzuki Foundation in 2023 are listed below. Note some Healing Forest names are placeholders until the groups confirm in consultation with their project partners:
- Balaclava Park Healing Forest, Balaclava Park, Vancouver, British Columbia
- Pleasant Valley Healing Forest, Armstrong, British Columbia
- Downtown Squamish School Farm Healing Forest, Squamish, British Columbia
- Red Alder Trail Healing Forest, Champlain Heights, South Vancouver, British Columbia
- Kwalikum Secondary School Healing Forest, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia
- Payhonin Healing Forest, Sturgeon County, Northern Alberta
- Kamwatanahk Healing Forest, Leask, Saskatchewan
- Okanese First Nation Healing Forest, Balcarres, Saskatchewan
- Coin Rendezvous Corner, St. Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba
- M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre Healing Forest, Owen Sound, Ontario
- Wiisinin Zaahgi’igan, Longlac, Ontario
- Dish with One Spoon Healing Gardens and Forests, Guelph, Ontario
- Burlington Healing Forest, Burlington, Ontario
- Duck Island Healing Forest, Smith Falls, Ontario
- UW Urban Forest, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
- Whitefish River Healing Forest, Birch Island, Ontario
- High Park Healing Forest, Toronto, Ontario
- Nantes Wood Healing Forest, Orléans, Ottawa, Ontario
- Longbow Lake Healing Forest, Longbow Lake, Ontario
- Name TBD Healing Forest, Ohsweken, Ontario
- Willow Park Healing Forest, Halton Hills, Ontario
- Mount Allison Healing Forest, Sackville, New Brunswick
- UNB Healing Forest, Saint John, New Brunswick
- Hope Blooms Healing Forest, Halifax, New Brunswick
- West Brooklyn Wabanaki Conservation Forest, West Brooklyn, Nova Scotia
- MALIGOMISH, Trenton, Nova Scotia
- Stable Life Park, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Newfoundland
- L’amphithéâtre au coeur de la forêt, Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc, Québec
- Centre d’interprétation de la nature du Lac Boivin (CINLB), Granby, Québec
- Forêt familiale avec projet de Centre de guérison pour autochtone et allochtone, Rawdon, Québec
- À venir, Hemmingford, Québec
- Blossom Corner, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec
For more information or a media interview, please contact:
Kate Kourtsidis, David Suzuki Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-806-8184
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 of 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.