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Tsleil-Waututh Nation looks to build residential school memorial garden

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Tsleil-Waututh Nation looks to build residential school memorial garden
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver is looking to honour survivors of residential schools. It's issued a request for a landscape architect to help make that vision a reality. Emily Lazatin reports. – May 11, 2024

It may just be an empty lot with invasive species, but Andrea Aleck has big plans for a plot of land in the heart of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation reserve.

Following conversations with community Elders, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation health and wellness director has brought forward plans to transform the space into a residential school memorial park and garden.

“When I look back at the history of not just our community, but the history of Indigenous people, I really wanted to champion this project out of respect for our history as as Indigenous people and particularly, Tsleil-Waututh Nation,” Aleck said.

“We want to be able to gather every year and pay our respects to the residential school survivors who never made it home. And for those that are still living in our community, to show our love and respect for them and also honor and recognize their resilience and their abilities to survive such, horrific, you know, place in time in history for Indigenous people.”

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The proposed location for the garden is on an empty lot between Alder Court and Takaya Drive, across from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation School.

It would not only include a garden space, but spaces for ceremony, storytelling, and a wild area populated with native evergreen trees such as sequoia and cedar trees. Aleck says the spaces will include memorial plaques, carvings, and covered areas.

“It’s going to give a place for time and reflection, stillness with oneself, and sitting in this healing space gives an opportunity for our survivors and community members to go forward and spend time in this beautiful place,” Aleck said.

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The garden is also part of the nation’s five-year food sovereignty vision and strategy and would include a community garden, hydroponics farm and an orchard which have already been approved by chief and council.

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Should the project get the proper funding and find a builder, it will require a lot of civil engineering, Aleck said, adding it would likely take two years to complete.

The discovery in recent years of what are believed to be unmarked graves of residential school students across Canada has brought renewed light to the system’s dark legacy.

Aleck says she is also hopeful the space can bring people from all walks of life together to learn about Indigenous history and culture, and be one of the many stepping stones on the reconciliation journey.

“This place that we’re envisioning is not only for healing for our community, but it’s also to really work with our surrounding neighbours of the schools and provide this is an education piece and a tool,” Aleck said.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation is taking bids on the project until May 24.

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