We would like to acknowledge the Algonquin nation whose traditional and unceded territory we gather and work upon.
June 21st is the Canadian National Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a day dedicated to honouring the impact and heritage of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples of Canada. And celebrate we shall. In being Ottawa's premier florist, we are located on Algonquin territory, and we can't help but admire the rich culture that exemplifies living in harmony and seeking balance with the natural world. We are gifted to work with nature daily, and there's so much to learn from Canada's indigenous peoples, a culture that has lived on this land for millennia.
We owe the Aboriginal peoples a debt that is four centuries old. It is their turn to become full partners in developing an even greater Canada. And the reconciliation required may be less a matter of legal texts than of attitudes of the heart.
First, a story.
According to the Anishinabeg people, in the beginning, animals ruled far and wide, and everyone knew a great and deep peace. One day, for one reason or another, conflict found its way into the world, and the animals began fighting with one another. The creator of the world, Kichi Manito, was greatly displeased with the behaviour of the animals, and decided to flood the world.
Another deity, Wisakedjak, felt pity for the animals and shared with them the knowledge, that if a handful of earth could be returned to the surface, the plants, trees, and flowers could grow again. So, the panicked animals gathered, and set about their task to save the world.
The first attempt belonged to the loon, by far the best diver in all the animal kingdom. They dove deep, so deep that the sun rose and set before they returned, halfway to death, gasping for air, but ultimately, unsuccessful.
The flood waters kept rising, and so the animals continued their efforts, the otter, then the duck, then the mink, then the beaver dove as deep as their powerful bodies could take them, but they all returned empty handed.
Lastly, the muskrat swam up, and confided with the rest of her animal brothers and sisters, that she has to make many attempts to dive and find her supper, so she wasn't easily discouraged, and time was soon running out. She was underwater for three days and three nights. Everyone feared for the worst, when suddenly, she burst from the water with a desperate splash. Floating on the surface, everyone thought she was dead, but with a sly smirk she opened her paw to reveal a handful of dirt.
I've got tonnes of aboriginal and Native American art, but I'd like even more.
Wisakedjak smiled, and placed the dirt on the back of a turtle, and this became the world we know today.
And this world, specifically Algonquin territory, or Eastern Ontario, is a rich and fertile place. First nations planted and used thousands of different species for food, medicine and ceremony. From Algae to flowers, to seeds to root vegetables, all found a place in both day to day life and during important rituals. Crops grown included the "Three Sisters": corn, beans and squash, were dietary staples. They were often planted side by side, in what is known today as companion planting. Root and green vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, wild rice, and mushrooms were grown and foraged. Tobacco for ceremonial purposes was also cultivated.
Plants were also used for medicinal purposes, Tribal Shamans, or healers, used herbal teas, poultices, inhaled vapours, and mixtures that could be chewed or swallowed to cure a variety of ailments. Wood also held an important place, as it was the primary source of construction material for canoes, boxes, totem poles, bows, arrows, and snowshoe frames. Bark was used for roofing, and the sinewy strands from stems was utilized for twine, rope, baskets, mats, and clothing. Tree resin was a water proofer, while plants provided dyes and pigments, scents, insect repellent and for jewellery and adornment. Tobacco, sage, and sweet grass were used in spiritual ceremonies for smudging, where smoke is fanned over the face and head to purify and relieve stress.
We work with plants every day, albeit in a very different way than the Algonquin people. However, in using our hands to craft beautiful natural things that communicate emotion to others, we feel a certain kinship and a deep reverence for the First Nations that live on this land we so cherish and enjoy. This knowledge inspires us to seek a better and more natural balance with the world. To remember that flowers grow from the earth, and the earth is something that belongs to all of us, as we belong to it.