A Unique and Effective Way to Advance Reconciliation across Canada
Our Healing Forest at Pleasant Valley Wetland Heritage Park was officially dedicated through a ceremony on September 29 2023 . The forest embraces the Children’s Grove of 215 trees honoring the children of Kamloops Industrial Residential School and incorporates two pocket forests that form the entrance to the Healing Forest. The first pocket forest was planted in spring 2023, the second was planted on Sept 29th 2023 as part of an Event to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
The National Healing Forest Initiative was developed by Patricia Stirbys, who is a Saulteaux Cree Lawyer from Cowessess First Nation Saskatchewan, and Peter Croal, retired Geologist. While on the Truth and Reconciliation Healing Walk in Ottawa in 2015, Patricia and Peter met and discussed ways of advancing the 94 Calls to Action. On that walk they developed the concept of creating Healing Forests across Canada. Healing Forest spaces offer survivors and families of the Residential School system, as well as all Canadians, an opportunity to heal, reflect, learn and have meaningful conversations about reconciliation and the Residential School system.
There are now 13 Healing Forests in Canada. Communities will develop a further 16 Healing Forests in 2023. The David Suzuki Foundation is now a partner as is the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, who developed a teaching module about reconciliation that uses the Healing Forest concept as a foundation for instruction.
The particularly unique and powerful characteristics of the Healing Forest are:
- Patricia and Peter reflect the true spirit of reconciliation. Two cultures coming together in a respectful and collaborative way to help Canada address the residential school legacy.
- Communities, schools, churches and institutions are in full control of the Healing Forest development process. The only core requirement of a Healing Forest is that the non-indigenous community reach out and form a relationship with the respective Indigenous community to develop the Healing Forest together.
- Each Healing Forest is unique and reflects the culture, history and Indigenous Peoples’ culture where the Healing Forest is situated.
Eugene Arcand, Indian Residential School Survivor Committee, said of the initiative “The Healing Forest project is important. It will help survivors and their families with healing and reconciliation”. Stephen Augustine, a Mi’Kmaw Hereditary Chief and Associate Vice-President at Cape Breton University says: “This is reconciliation in action. They are actually reaching out to Indigenous Peoples.”
Jody Wilson -Raybould’s new book, True Reconciliation – How to be a Force for Change, articulates that non-indigenous Canadians need to get involved in Reconciliation. The Healing Forest is a strong example of this. And Justice Murray Sinclair, who officiated at the initial planning meeting of the Healing Forest in Winnipeg said: “Reconciliation is not an Indigenous problem, it is a Canadian one”
Indigenous and Non-indigenous cultures are working together across Canada in the spirit of reconciliation to develop unique spaces for healing, education, community building and connection to nature.
For more information on this initiative, please contact Peter.Croal@bell.net