Indigenous garden: A tribute to the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation

hands holding the soil and roots of fern plant in preparation of planting
A brand-new garden featuring plants indigenous to the National Capital Region is budding on campus. Located in front of the Social Sciences Building, the space acknowledges the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg.
dogwood shrub planted outside faculty of social sciences building and close-up of leaves and berries
collage of blonde woman planting fern and close-up of the leaves of fern
collage showing maidenhair fern planted in garden and close up of the leaves of maidenhair fern

A brand-new garden featuring plants indigenous to the National Capital Region is budding on campus. Located in front of the Social Sciences Building, the space acknowledges the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg.

“Creating an Indigenous garden is a small step on the journey of decolonization and Indigenization at the Faculty of Social Sciences,” says Victoria Barham, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. “We believe it’s of significance that this garden is located at the physical heart of the main campus, and we hope that there will be an effort to Indigenize other green spaces on campus.”

The result of a close collaboration between uOttawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences, Indigenous Affairs, the Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Centre, the Facilities team and members of the Algonquin community, the garden is a symbolic expression of the ideas expressed in the University of Ottawa’s Indigenous affirmation:

“We pay respect to the Algonquin people, who are the traditional guardians of this land. We acknowledge their longstanding relationship with this territory, which remains unceded.”

The garden represents the relationship between the University of Ottawa and the Omamìwìnini Anishinàbeg peoples nearby.

“The garden reinforces that notion of making space for Indigenous communities on campus,” says Victoria Marchand, coordinator of the Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Centre. “It symbolizes the growing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, the same way plants grow. By deepening an understanding of the plants traditionally used by Indigenous peoples in Canada, we are reviving ancestral ways.”

This initiative falls under the third “hoop” of the Indigenous Action Plan, to make esthetic and symbolic changes to increase Indigenous representation on campus. The plants selected are traditionally used as medicines by the various Indigenous nations. 

Here are a few plants that you will now find in front of the Social Sciences Building:

Miskwàbìgiminaganj (Cornus alterfolia)

Cornus alterfolia, or dogwood, is a shrub used as a medicinal plant by Indigenous peoples across Canada.

Its inner bark stops bleeding and relieves pain. Used as an infusion or poultice, it treats a range of ailments including wounds, sores, cuts and infections, toothache, eye irritation, liver disorders, colds, coughs, tuberculosis, bronchitis and paralysis.

Nìbà-ayamiye anàganashk (Polystichum acrostichoides)

The young fronds of the Polystichum, also known as fiddleheads, are edible when cooked following specific instructions.

The roots, however, are used in traditional medicine. As an infusion, they help soothe fevers and chills, as well as treat lung conditions such as pneumonia.

Applied to the skin between two cloths, a pasty preparation concocted from boiled roots can relieve rheumatism and convulsions.

Anàganiwashkòns (Adiantum pedatum)

With its great beauty, the Adiantum pedatum, or Northern maidenhair fern, is one of the most prized ferns to adorn the flowerbeds.

It was used for its curative properties in the treatment of lung disease. As an infusion, the expectorant properties of its leaves can be used to treat coughs and other respiratory disorders.

The following plants will be added to the garden later this summer:

Nabagashk (Erythronium americanum)

The yellow flowers of the Erythronium americanum, also called the yellow trout lily, can be seen very early in the spring, in April and May, when the ground begins to warm up after the snow melts.

Its leaves were used by First Nations people for chest pains. They were boiled into a paste and applied as a poultice to treat swelling and ulcers.

Pàgwadakamig-wàbigon (Eurybia macrophylla)

The aster genus is comprised of more than 250 species worldwide. There are 52 species in Canada, of which about 40 are still cultivated today. Also known as the large-leaved aster, this perennial plant blooms late in the season and, depending on the variety, offers beautiful blue, purple, pink or white colours.

Infusions of the aster root were used by some Indigenous peoples as a remedy for cuts, heart ailments and eye problems. The young leaves were once eaten in the spring.