The idea for the National Healing Forests Project transpired in June 2015 during the Healing Walk in Ottawa with thousands of other people prior to the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report by Senator Sinclair. Peter Croal, a longtime geologist, and Patricia Stirbys, a lawyer and member of Cowessess First Nation, both having worked with Indigenous people throughout their careers, met during that Healing Walk and agreed to develop the project together.
Their vision for the project is to establish a network of Healing Forests across the country where survivors, families and all Canadians, can come together to reflect, meditate, heal and participate in ceremony to better understand the legacy of the Residential School system, and move forward in a positive way. A forest, big or small, or a quiet green space is a wonderful place to heal and connect with nature.
Many Asian cultures have practiced “forest bathing” for centuries because of the many health benefits experienced. Research shows that walking in a forest can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rates, boost mood and may even help fight cancer. The health benefits of forests is a key feature of the National Healing Forests initiative to bring healing to a nation and its people from the tragic history between the Canadian government and Indigenous people.
Any community or institution can create their own Healing Forest through thoughtful organization. Gather together a small committee to share ideas about location (public or private lands), design and work together with your local municipal government, community or landowner to set aside a quiet space for your Healing Forest. Patricia and Peter, as co-creators of the project would not manage the process for your community, however, they are happy to share experiences to help communities move forward with their own local Healing Forest. It is anticipated that the creative ideas coming from each community across the country will result in unique and rich approaches to healing and reconciliation using forests and green spaces as the foundation.
The possibilities for community-led Healing Forests are limitless and up to the imagination of the individuals and communities involved. Some concepts include:
- – An outdoor gathering place for ceremony, teachings, meditation, and prayer
- – Planting of trees by surviving families of a deceased child, a missing and murdered woman or girl, or a child lost to the Sixties Scoop or child welfare system
- – Planting of trees by non-indigenous Canadians to demonstrate unity and commitment to reconciliation
- – Walking trails
- – Monuments or memorials
- – Selected areas set aside to grow medicinal or sacred plants
- – A children’s park as a place to honour the love of our children and celebrate resilience
The two requests that Peter and Patricia have are that the Healing Forest is created in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, and that the location of your Healing Forest is shared with them so that it can be added to the National Healing Forests map on the website.
Every Canadian can play a role in healing and reconciliation, including our youth. In February 2017, Patricia and Peter participated in a one-day art workshop in Regina, Saskatchewan at the request of the Regina School Board. During that full-day workshop, young students from grade 8 to grade 12 created artwork dedicated to reconciliation and healing. Their artwork was their contribution to the Healing Forests.
Healing Forests have already begun springing up across Canada. One Healing Forest has been established in Edmonton’s River Valley. Another is being designed in Perth, Ontario and is expected to open in June 2018. Winnipeg is developing its own Healing Forest, which will be dedicated and opened in September 2018.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that the relationship between the Government of Canada and Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people is the most important relationship for his mandate. The National Healing Forests Project is one small contribution to enhance this relationship between nations. Your community can participate in the Project and be a part of this much needed effort toward reconciliation.
Would you like to develop a Healing Forest in your community? If so, please contact Patricia and Peter for more information.