Community members, stakeholders and Esquimalt High School staff take in the Camas meadow in the school’s new Indigenous plant garden. The garden is one of six gardens opened at SD61 schools as part of the Harvest4Knowledge project, which promotes positive relationships between students and the land. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Six Indigenous plant gardens unveiled at Victoria schools

Project helps deepen connection to traditional land, plants

A small group gathered around a bed of iris-coloured Camas and pink Sea Blush flowers at Esquimalt High School on Monday afternoon.

The group was celebrating the unveiling of six new Indigenous Plant Gardens at Greater Victoria School District 61 (SD61) schools, part of the Harvest4Knowledge project, an initiative promoting Indigenous plants and traditional knowledge on the homeland of the Lkwungen people – known also as Songhees and Esquimalt Nation.

And as part of the project, hereditary chief Edward ‘Seenupin’ Thomas worked with Elder Dr. Elmer George of the Songhees Nation – the last fluent Lkwungen speaker – to record the Lkwungen names of the plants.

“We are always looking for opportunities to connect with the land and with the nations as well and this was just the perfect thing,” said Aboriginal support teacher Rachel Trebilco. “I think the hope is that eventually it will become student-led. We would like to see our students who are Songhees and Esquimalt really see themselves more in the school and have a sense of belonging.

And it’s a way for any student – Indigenous or not – to connect with the land.”

READ ALSO: Victoria’s community garden plots a hot commodity

The garden at Esquimalt High School includes a Camas meadow, Camas bed and Indigenous plant and medicine gardens. Signage posted around the garden provides the traditional Lkwungen names, English names and QR codes that allow smartphone readers to learn more about each plant.

Signs in SD61’s new Indigenous gardens come with QR codes that, once scanned with an iPhone, take visitors to web pages with additional information on the plants. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

SD61 Aboriginal Art and Cultural Facilitator Sarah Rhude, who took up the project along with numerous SD61 teachers and community partners, says having traditional gardens is a way to not only get students outside, but to help them make new connections.

“I want [students] to be able to develop a relationship with the land, i want them to learn the Lkwungen names of the plants…so they can show honour and respect to the ancestors whose territories we all work and play on,” she said. “Also, as visitors to this territory, one of the things I was taught by a knowledge keeper here, is that the way to honour and be a good visitor is to develop a relationship with the land and learn the language of the plants and animals.”

Rhude noted that getting the project off the ground was a group effort. It’s been in progress for nearly two years, but now, through funding from Farm to School BC and the Horner Foundation, gardens have been opened at six schools in total, including Esquimalt High School, Victoria High, Shoreline Community Middle School, Craigflower Elementary, Spectrum Community School and Colquitz Middle School.

Rhude said, “people from everywhere [came] together because they know it’s important.”

READ ALSO: Horticultural Society’s support the latest boost to Vic High garden



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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