Q&A with restoration coordinator
By Barb Pert Templeton
The event is free, the public’s welcome and planting tools will even be provided to those wishing to help plant 800 plants in the new garden.
Friends of the St. Clair River will kick off a new River Walk Garden (Giitigan) with a dedication ceremony and planting event on Tuesday, June 21 at 10 a.m. The Friends group will be joined by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, and the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission to honor the installation of the Seven Grandfathers sculptures carved by Garrett Nahdee of the Ojibway Tribe of Walpole Island.
The ceremony, which encourages public attendance, includes a drum and dancers from the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, smudging ceremony, and a community planting of native plants, to complement the Seven Grandfathers Teachings.
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“We want people to come celebrate indigenous culture, learn about native plants, and help us celebrate this project for healing the past and giving hope for the future,” said Friends Restoration Coordinator Brooke Hiller.
She added that organizers were thrilled to be awarded a Wildflower Association of Michigan grant to complete the garden and said Giitigan is the Anishinaabe word for garden. Anishinaabe people are Native Americans and First Nations (Canadian) members of local tribes in the Blue Water Area.
The seven statues were actually installed on the Blue Water River Walk in July 2021 as part of the Blue Water River Walk Native American Art Project, a collaboration between the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and community members. The pandemic prevented a formal ceremony at that time.
Now the dedication ceremony will take place at the Blue Water River Walk Plaza on the St. Clair River in downtown Port Huron. Participants can park at the Great Lakes Maritime Center, 51 Court Street, Port Huron, and walk to the River Walk Plaza. Tools for planting will be provided.
Blue Water Healthy Living caught up with Restoration Coordinator Brooke Hiller to pose some questions about the event.
Blue Water Healthy Living: The installation of the sculptures took place last July – was there a ceremony then?
Brooke Hiller: The sculptures were installed last July but there was no official ceremony due to Covid-19 restrictions. This year we are making up for lost time with community speakers, a Native American led blessing and smudging ritual, and Native American Drumming.
Blue water Healthy Living: Can you describe the idea behind the Seven Grandfathers sculptures and what they are meant to represent?
Brooke Hiller: The Seven Grandfather Sculptures were carved by Garrett Nahdee of the Ojibway Tribe of Walpole Island. These sculptures represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings, which are integral to the Anishinaabe way of life. The seven teachings center around the principles of Love, Honesty, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Wisdom, and Humility. My words alone will not do justice to the principles and the legend behind them, but this website is a very good resource for the teachings: seven-grandfather-teachings
Blue Water Healthy Living: How many native plants will be put in place during the community planting portion of the event?
Brooke Hiller: We have over 800 plants ready to be installed into the Giitigan (garden) after the ceremony.
Blue Water Healthy Living: How much was the grant from the Wildflower Association of Michigan?
Brooke Hiller: The grant was $997.74, which covered the cost of the native plants, which were purchased from Wildtype Nursery in Mason, MI.
Blue Water Healthy Living: How long do you anticipate this event lasting that day?
Brooke Hiller: The ceremony will last approximately 30 minutes, and the planting will take place immediately afterwards, concluding at 1pm.
Blue Water Healthy Living: What should people bring – coolers, lawn chairs, gardening tools?
Brooke Hiller: Not having gardening tools shouldn’t discourage people from attending; we have extras to share. However, it is encouraged that if attendees have a favorite shovel or other planting tool and gardening gloves, bring them as well as a watering can. Refreshments and chairs will be provided, but it’s a good idea to also bring plenty of drinking water, as it’s supposed to be hot.
Blue Water Healthy Living: Why is this new River Walk Garden important for the community?
Brooke Hiller: The new Blue Water River Walk Garden (Giitigan) is important to the community because it represents renewal, healing and hope for a better future. As you may know, the site of this garden used to be amidst an industrial brownfield; land that had been abused and neglected for over 100 years. Our community worked together to heal the land from the past abuses we had inflicted upon it, and this garden is a representation of not only our efforts to heal the land, but to take steps forward to heal the injustices inflicted upon the local indigenous community, who were the original stewards of this land. We hope this garden will be a place that all people will feel welcome, and the native plants we are planting in this Giitigan will nourish and support wildlife and people for years to come.