Located on unceded ancestral Musqueam territory, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems works closely with four Indigenous initiatives at the UBC Farm: the Musqueam Garden, Maya in Exile Garden, Tu’wusht Project, and Indigenous Health Garden. In 2013 alone, these initiatives brought over 4,500 visits to the Farm and engaged more than 300 UBC students through class visits, group projects, graduate research, and directed studies.
The Indigenous Initiatives’ programming supports the objectives of UBC’s First Nations House of Learning in promoting research that will benefit First Nations, Métis, and Inuit People, the specific research goals of the Indigenous Research Partnerships, as well as the university-wide strategy for Indigenous engagement, as outlined in UBC’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan. By expanding its existing programs and international Indigenous links, as well as furthering opportunities for community-based research, the Farm aims to enhance UBC’s role as an agent of change at the intersection of land, food and community.
An initiative of the Vancouver Native Health Society, the Tu’wusht Garden project has been growing and preparing food at the UBC Farm since 2005. The mission of this garden project is “to provide the support and opportunity for Aboriginal people living in east Vancouver to improve their health and capacity by experiencing the “seed to table” aspect. We will create a safe space for Elders and youth to interact, to promote healing through gardening.” The garden project runs a weekly community kitchen with urban Aboriginal participants who grow, prepare, and eat food while sharing knowledge and skills with members of the UBC community and beyond. Ceremonies and celebrations throughout the year mark important seasonal shifts in traditional food ways, such as harvest feasts and the use of the cedar smokehouse for fish (part of the project’s work to bridge land and sea). This project has an intergenerational focus, bringing elders and youth together to learn and build important relationships. The project hosts a diverse array of groups and urban Aboriginal youth organizations at the farm throughout the year. For more information, please visit the Garden Project website or you can view their project videos from 2008 here and 2012 here.
The idea for the Maya garden began in 1986 when five Maya families came to Canada as refugees from Guatemala. For thousands of years, Our ancestors, the Mayan people have worked the land planting corn, beans and squash (the three sisters). The Maya civilization and culture has evolved around the planting of corn. The main goal of these Mayan families was to keep the Mayan traditions and culture alive by continuing to grow Maya crops in Canada. This has allowed the children to learn about their culture and strengthen their identity. It has reminded us of who we are and where we come from.
In 1999, a friend and supporter of the Maya Indian Support Group and volunteer at the UBC Farm informed us about the possibility of applying for a project plot at UBC. The group welcomed the idea and in 2000, the garden was established at the UBC Farm.
Initially, we planted the three sisters. Later on, we incorporated greens such as amaranth (bledo), yerba mora, and apazote, among other crops. Each season begins with a traditional Maya ceremony to ask permission to Mother Earth and the Creator to break the land and bless the seeds. Before we harvest corn, another ceremony is offered to thank the Creator and Mother Earth for all that has been produced. The garden continues to be a place for cultural sharing and sustaining ancestral practices.
The Indigenous Health Garden has been based at the farm since 2007, and until 2013 was overseen by the former Institute for Aboriginal Health. As part of the Indigenous Research Partnerships within UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, the IHG emphasises teaching, learning, and research. It aims to serve educational and research needs related to Indigenous food sovereignty while increasing participants’ knowledge and access to both traditional and non-traditional plants. As with the other Indigenous programs at the UBC Farm, the IHG is guided by the principle that ‘food is medicine,’ and thus that a holistic understanding of health and healing includes the food that people eat. In addition to its international, community-based research, the IHG supports three main program areas:
- The Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness program brings urban Indigenous and recent immigrant youth to the Garden from March to October. To find out more about the program, view the program booklet here or find regular updates on the CRUW blog.
- Food harvested from the Indigenous Health garden is used as part of the monthly community Feast Bowl meal, which brings together Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and allies at the First Nations House of Learning Longhouse on campus to cook and eat traditional and seasonal foods. (Watch the video here)
- The Indigenous Health Garden grows over 40 varieties of medicinal plants that are native to the region. These are cared for and used by the Medicine Collective, a group of Indigenous Elders and Knowledge-keepers who lead medicine-making workshops and walks in the Garden with the community.
For updates about the garden’s programs and ways to get involved, sign up for the newsletter here.
The Musqueam community stewards a garden at the UBC Farm to grow foods and medicines. Food grown is shared with members of the community who otherwise may not access fresh food, and knowledge is shared to build capacity within the community. The Musqueam community is also involved with other Indigenous initiatives at the farm in various capacities, such as providing guidance and protocols, accessing fish for community meals, building the cedar smokehouse, and sharing medicine-making knowledge. As the Farm’s existing Indigenous initiatives grow and as others develop, respecting and involving the Musqueam community remains an integral component, in acknowledging and honouring the peoples whose traditional territory the Farm operates on.
A major component of this is taking shape in the Land-Based Indigenous Working Group. Operating with the support of the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, Kloshe Tillicum, and the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, this working group aims to support the future development of Indigenous initiatives at the Farm through engaging with the UBC community and those around the province engaging in work towards Indigenous food security. Based on a series of recent gatherings and design workshops, this working group plans to generate material for use in UBC classrooms, in other communities, and for future planning at the Farm. Upcoming gatherings will engage with more voices that will inform work in Indigenous food security at the UBC Farm and beyond.
The longer-term visions and goals for the Indigenous Initiatives are taking shape in the development of a Land-Based Indigenous Strategy for the UBC Farm. Operating with the support of the Indigenous Research Partnerships, Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF), Kloshe Tillicum, and the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems, this process aims to support the future growth and development of Indigenous initiatives at the Farm through engaging with the UBC community and those around the province engaging in work towards Indigenous food security and sovereignty. Based on a series of recent gatherings and design workshops, this working group plans to generate material for use in UBC classrooms, in other communities, and for future planning at the Farm. Upcoming gatherings will engage with more voices that will inform work in Indigenous food security at the UBC Farm and beyond.
The Indigenous initiatives at the UBC Farm collaborate in many exciting ways with UBC. Some examples of past and ongoing research projects with these initiatives include:
- Nutrition workshops contributing to a culturally appropriate cookbook with the Vancouver Native Health Society Garden Project. (FNH 475, Nutrition Education in the Community
- Curriculum development with the Institute for Indigenous Health CRUW Youth Program, through community service learning. (EDCP 585C, Theory and Dimensions of Place-based Learning: Critical, Eco- humanist and Indigenous Lenses)
- Collaboration with Institute for Aboriginal Health elders and knowledge-keepers to create a garden design plan. (LARC 580B, Independent Directed Study)
- Community service learning and ethnographic research with the Maya in Exile Garden through the Immigrant Vancouver Ethnographic Field School. (SOCI 495A/ANTH 409A Advanced Studies in Sociology)
- Field course on food security in collaboration with Squamish First Nation. (APBI 497B, Engaging Indigenous Communities Through Community-Based Experiential Learning)
- Many SEEDS (Social Ecological Economic Development Studies) projects including engineering student research into culturally appropriate building design with the Institute for Aboriginal Health Garden. (APSC 261, Science and Technology)
- Master’s thesis research into the mental health outcomes of participating in a community-based horticulture project for urban Indigenous youth, through the Vancouver Native Health Society garden project. (CNPS 599C, Master’s in Counseling Psychology)
See The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems’ Publications Library for more information.
The farm’s Indigenous projects and programming are made possible through long standing relationships with many organizations and individuals, including:
- First Nations House of Learning
- Vancouver Native Health Society
- Indigenous Research Partnerships
- Aboriginal Health & Natural Products Laboratory (Faculty of Land and Food Systems)
- Faculty of Land and Food Systems
For more information or to find out how to become involved with Indigenous initiatives at the UBC Farm, please contact the Indigenous Programs Liaison Hannah Lewis at: firstname.lastname@example.org