(Black Press Media files)

(Black Press Media files)

Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Anna McKenzie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

Meagan Saulnier says she has the best job in the world.

She works with urban Indigenous children and youth in foster care, connecting them to the land, and to their distinct and diverse cultures.

“Our children are especially looking for that sense of belonging,” Saulnier says. “It guides us in our identity and ways of being.”

Saulnier, who’s Mi’kmaq, is a cultural continuity worker with Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services (SCCFS), a Delegated Aboriginal Agency that provides programs and services for urban Indigenous children and youth in care in so-called Victoria.

At SCCFS, Saulnier says they recognize that social workers can’t do it all, which prompted their executive director to initiate cultural continuity programming to support Indigenous children and youth in care.

As part of the programming, Saulnier travels with the kids to their homelands, or attends cultural events like the annual Kamloopa Powwow.

“That is a really beautiful, transformational thing to see … when you’re there and you see kids put their feet on their territory,” Saulnier tells IndigiNews.

As a response to current travel restrictions which don’t allow for homeland trips or events, Sauliner shifted her efforts and began delivering plants and helping build medicine gardens at the homes of Indigenous kids, so they can stay connected during the pandemic.

“It’s been so hard on everyone’s spirit, but as Indigenous people … how we know to be, our ways of being, gathering and sharing food … that has been basically nonexistent. And so we’ve come up with creative ways of being outside,” she says.

To date, Saulnier says she has helped put together around 40 individualized medicine gardens, sourcing plants from the youth’s traditional territories, while also including plants from the lands they are on, as a way of honouring the traditional territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən people.

Saulnier says it’s important young people have ways to connect with the land.

She works to bring in Knowledge Keepers and engage youth in conversations about plants, where and how they grow, and their medicinal properties, she says.

“The intention is to eventually watch that plant to see how it grows, and build a relationship with it through the seasons and see what it needs, and then eventually be able to harvest and process the plant,” Saulnier says.

The youth practice “consent-based harvesting,” by speaking with the plants and offering gratitude, she says.

The medicine gardens program has branched out into other opportunities for youth, like learning about ceremonial practices, engaging with language, and regalia making, Saulnier explains.

Saulnier recalls supporting two siblings to plant a Saskatoon berry bush in their medicine garden, to honour their late brother. Another time, she says two of the older youth she works with were invited to share their stories at a public event.

“Often when you’re a child or youth in care, it’s sometimes focused on .125just.375 that and the struggles that have been in your life,” Saulnier says. “But to kind of step away from that for a moment and focus on this and your gifts … that’s really powerful.

“To be well, my belief is we do need to be connected to our culture and identity.”

She recognizes that coming together to engage with the land and with plants is a “multigenerational” practice, and helps educate non-Indigenous foster parents, she says.

Many of the caregivers for Indigenous youth are non-Indigenous, and the cultural continuity program supports them to nurture the child’s cultural and spiritual identities, she says.

“Sometimes there’s fear for non-Indigenous people around making a mistake, or not knowing what to do if you’re in community, and so it’s really like … it’s something universal as well, right? Like planting and the Earth, and the land.”

“It’s still vital to be connected, to go back to your territory to connect with your nation, whatever that looks like. We all have our different stories in our journeys as to why we’re disconnected,” she says.

“You can always go back to the land.”

Foster careIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ladysmith Save-On-Foods. (Cole Schisler photo)
$5.4 million in renovations coming for Ladysmith Save-On-Foods

Save-On-Foods would not say when the renovations will begin

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Red dresses to be hung from Ladysmith to Oyster Bay, showing solidarity against racism

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

Volunteers tend to White Rock’s waterfront native plant demonstration garden, during a work party Saturday (May 5). (Contributed photo)
Ready your gardens, the pollinators are coming

By R. Quinlan With the arrival of Spring, this year has more… Continue reading

Bruce Whittington making a founding gift to the Ladysmith Community Foundation Fund, presented to then Nanaimo Foundation Board Chair, Ted Carson. (Submitted photo)
New Ladysmith Community Fund set up to support local charities

The fund will be managed by the Nanaimo Foundation and all funds will remain in Ladysmith

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read