Published on June 18, 2023
In our latest guest writer post, Laura McPhie reflects on learning to care for the land.
How do you connect to the land around you?
The Evergreen guest author series invites writers to share their perspectives on topics like public space and placekeeping. The series continues with Laura McPhie, who reflects on her journey of learning to steward the land.
Laura McPhie is a two-spirit Anishinabe, German, and Scottish member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation. She currently lives on the traditional lands of the Three Fires Confederacy — the Ojibway, the Odawa, and the Potawotami — in Barrie, Ontario. Laura grew up in an urban context, in Calgary, Alberta on Treaty 7 territory. Her studies focused on Indigenous and Queer history and how we tell stories.
In her work life, Laura focuses on creating spaces and platforms for people and communities to share their stories and inform organization change. Over the past two years, Laura has worked with Evergreen to build knowledge around Canadian history in relation to Indigenous peoples, how to build and hold good relations, and start to reflect on organizational change to contribute toward environments of Reconciliation.
I am one of the 45% of the Indigenous population that grew up and continues to live in urban centers. Like many urban Indigenous folks, I learned to care for the land, and all the joys connecting with land can give you, through non-traditional ways.
On my father’s side, our ancestors are Anishnaabe and Scottish. We are still proud members of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation. On my mother’s side, our ancestors are German. In my adult years, I have tried to learn about, connect with, and understand teachings of land, of placemaking, and being a steward for the land — but it is my mother’s side that showed me how to embody those concepts as a child.
When I was young, my grandmother and grandfather Miller grew a beautiful garden in their back yard. It had sweet peas, beans, corn and so much abundance of veggies. As a child, I did not show the curiosity I now wish I had. Each year, they preserved those veggies by canning them and storing them in a cold storage under the ground. They also loved to take my brother and I fishing; showing us the process of cleaning the fish, and cooking it — at the time, I did not appreciate the skills I would later pick back up. Looking back, these were all skills picked up in part because of poverty, a reflection I did not have as a child. We can learn a lot when we think of the food of our ancestors and how they co-existed with land.
As I grew, I lost these role models, but my mom kept the joy of land in our lives. Mom has always had a wild garden. She does not push or pull the plants into specific sections in her yard, rather she lets them thrive and coaxes them into respecting the space of other plants. She and my dad would take us walking and cross-country skiing and we would tease her when her curiosity to connect with the smell of a flower meant that we lost her behind us for a moment. They would also drag two very unwilling children camping every year to teach us skills we would eventually gleefully pick up in our adulthood.
It’s funny how we learn. For many generations, Indigenous Peoples have been harmed for our teachings, our pride and our connections to the land. We are choosing to pick up those skills again. As I do that myself, I look to my mom to be my teacher on caring for the plants that live in my yard.
“Throughout my journey so far, I have realized that placekeeping is about many small ways of honouring our community, which includes the land.”
Two years ago, I became one of the lucky humans that had their parents help them buy a house (I love you both!) and with it came land. It was wildly overgrown, English Ivy choking out so many of the indigenous plants. Over those two years, I have been trying to understand how I show up for the land, how I steward this tiny chunk of ‘private’ space to be community space, and the responsibilities to those that walked before me and will walk after me.
The rules of my garden were that it needed to feed something — my family, the bees, the birds, or the animals that live in it. But I recently changed that view a bit because of a podcast by Don’t Call Me Resilient where they spoke about decolonizing your garden. Two concepts have really resonated with how I understand my responsibility to my garden. First, many ‘invasive’ plants are simply doing what they are made to do — live, grow, thrive. They did not choose my yard to do that and they cannot choose to leave. Second, was the reference to the extreme privilege of having land to care for, of being able to grow food, and the history of discrimination based on growing food on front yards.
Throughout my journey so far, I have realized that placekeeping is about many small ways of honouring our community, which includes the land. I want to challenge you to think about how you steward land in little ways in your life. Consider who you learned to care for land from and why it was important to your ancestors. What are the micro ways you integrate it into your life, whether through caring for indoor plants, walking and truly noticing the sights, sounds, smells of the land, or any other ways you welcome it into your life.