(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

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply as overdose emergency turns 5

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

The Latoria South section of the Royal Bay development in Colwood could include a new long-term care facility. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood’s Royal Bay could be home to new long-term care facilities

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $8M land purchase for purpose

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth gets combative with police at Victoria hospital

VicPD officer injured, youth kept in care under Mental Health Act

A man with a history of sexual offences was arrested after he followed and aggressively tried to talk to two young woman on the weekend. Black Press File Photo
Man convicted of sexual offences arrested after teens followed in Victoria

Women hid in a Quadra Village convenience store as man aggressively tried to get in

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School April 14 to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Music classes, inclusion services, reading programs on the line

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

One of the grand prizes for this year's Hometown Heroes Lottery includes a seaside home at SookePoint, $1.5 million, and an Audi Quattro. (Photo courtesy of Hometown Heroes)
Hometown Heroes Lottery features seaside home in Sooke

A stunning seaside home in Sooke could be yours for the price… Continue reading

City workers from Duncan were busy recently putting up street signs in both Hul’q’umi’num’ and English. (Submitted photo)
Hul’q’umi’num street signs installed in downtown Duncan

Partnership with Cowichan Tribes sees English street names twinned with Indigenous language

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

Most Read