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Healing gardens sown at Tse’k’wa

Indigenous plants brings community together at Charlie Lake cave 

Update: 

The heritage site will be closed to the public until construction work is completed by Sept. 15, says the Tse'k'wa Heritage Society. 

Original story: 

New healing gardens have been planted at the Tse’k’wa national historic site.

Wild rose, yarrow, goldenrod, wild mint, bear root, and sage are just a handful of the plants found along the banks of the Peace River, all finding a new home at the site, more commonly known as the Charlie Lake cave. 

The traditional indigenous plants are perennial species that can be used for community gatherings and ceremonies by local First Nations, and were planted by Twin Sisters Native Plant Nursery, founded by the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations in 2012 to promote and protect native plant species.  

Julian Napoleon, head grower and Twin Sisters manager, came out with nursery summer students to rebuild and plant the gardens. Seven students are working the nursery this year, learning hands-on skills and experience. Thirty different native species are grown at their facility.  

"We're always trying to ensure that there's a good succession of young folks who want to get involved. Every year, a handful of the summer students eventually emerge as people that get really inspired or interested in plants, learning about plants and working," said Napoleon. "The higher-level focus really is to get a deeper understanding of the different plants." 

While he was never a summer student himself, Napoleon said he's had a love for plants from a young age, and brought that passion back to his community after completing a degree in applied biology at UBC. The focus of his education was practical agriculture and indigenous food security. 

Alyssa Currie, executive director for the Tse’k’wa Heritage Society, said she’s learned a lot from Napoleon and the students who came out to plant the gardens. 

“The concept is to really celebrate the plants and their uses with the Dane Zaa culture,” she said. “The garden and plant work we’re doing on site is really our opportunity to indigenize the property while beautifying it – so we pulled out some of the ornamental, non-native plants and replaced them with native plants.”  

The project is funded by the First People’s Cultural Council, as part of its goal to preserve and celebrate the culture, language, and heritage of the Dane Zaa. Signage with the both the English and Indigenous names will be installed at a later date. 

“Some of these plants we’ll be able to harvest on site, local sweet grass or huckleberry, for example, and this will be a place that we can showcase these plants,” said Currie.  

Currie says the project also greatly benefitted from the work the of Prophet River First Nation, which completed an ethnobotany study in 2006 taking inventory and identifying indigenous plants found in Northeast B.C. Knowledge keepers from Doig River First Nation were also consulted.  

“We went around the property with our elders and identified some of the native plants that are growing elsewhere on the property and some of their uses,” she said. “So over time we’re hoping to build some educational content and material to showcase those plants.”  

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.  

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