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Connecting to the land

Indigenous youth participate in land stewardship program at Evergreen Brick Works.

people standing in a garden in the summer sunshine, surrounded by plants

Published on September 15, 2020

“Watching them come alive while onsite was truly magical,” says Isaac Crosby, as he reflected on his experience this past summer mentoring seven Indigenous youth as part of the Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag program. “They would arrive groggy but within 10 mins, being near the forest brought them out of their shells.” This past summer marks the first time the NDG program has been hosted on site at Evergreen Brick Works and was co-facilitated by Isaac Crosby, Evergreen’s Lead Hand of Urban Agriculture.

Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag is a longstanding program in partnership with University of Toronto Access Program and co-founder Elder Whabagoon, an Ojibway Elder, Loon Clan, Keeper of Sacred Pipes and a member of the Lac Seul First Nation. This program aims to deepen connections to land for Indigenous youth with learnings of land and water through ceremony and knowledge of green infrastructure, including urban agriculture. The program provides meaningful cultural connections and fosters opportunities to inspire a new generation of environmental stewards. Past program participants demonstrate increased cultural connection, confidence and independence, nurturing the skills necessary for future leaders and city builders.

Led by Elder Whabagoon, Professor Liat Margolis from University of Toronto, and Isaac, youth participants engaged in learnings of the land and urban agricultural techniques, including harvesting medicinal plants, building and decorating bee boxes and learning about the surrounding ravine landscapes. They would also take the time to explore the land and ID plants they saw, including researching and learning Indigenous language names for plants, as well as Latin names. During a time in a pandemic when youth needed a connection to the land more than ever, this program allowed youth to explore these connections in a safe way.

The program was a resounding success – one participant, Ella Laforme, shares her experience:

This summer of Nikibii Dawdinna Giigwag meant so much to me because of everything that has happened this year, with Covid-19 as well as personal things. Being stuck with the same family members from March until July was driving me absolutely insane!! So knowing that I'll be at work with pretty much my second family was a life saver! Even if it was only in person one day. As work went on too I had some personal things that were going on but knowing I had all of them to talk to and help me through it made it so much easier for me. This year really did mean a lot to me and I'm so excited for next summer and many more to come!!

Elder Whabagoon shared her reflection:

Our third year in a row, Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag 2020 was remarkable! Despite Covid-19 and the barriers around it we managed to come together as one, on Wednesdays.  It was my favourite day. Through plants and earth, bees and trees we safely gathered at The Burrow with Isaac Crosby to build, to learn, and to reconnect with the spirit of the Land and Water. Watching the youth lay their tobacco and listen to them leading their own ceremonies filled my heart. These youth are our future and what a great future we have to look forward to.
Miigwetch to the staff at Evergreen.

As the summer programming has come to a close, we look forward to planning for a fall program centered on sharing teachings and knowledge of the Paw Paw tree. The intention is to build an on-site food forest for all to enjoy and share the trees with community groups across the city.