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SD64 Native Plant Garden

Updated: Jul 13, 2023


On the longest day of the year, about 300 students from Salt Spring Elementary, Phoenix Elementary, and Gulf Islands Secondary gathered out on the field to listen and learn from W̱SÁNEĆ Elder Carl Olsen, SD64 Indigenous Ed Principal Shannon Johnston, Native Artist Quentin Harris, and Jingle Dancer and Teacher, Cheryl Ruff, along with youth Ribbon Dancers Rozzi and Seraphina. The sun was out and everyone was seated in a giant circle on the grass around the speakers and performers to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.

After that, Carl Olsen along with Mikayla Joe-George (Qwu'utsun Band) met with Christina Novak, myself and Janisse Browning's classes at the Welcome Figure & Native Plant Garden at the south end of the Hydro Field, along Rainbow Road.

Christina Novak is a new teacher to SSE this year. Her Masters in Teaching was focused on Indigenous native plant origin stories and creating art around our own relationships with these plants. So, she was excited to collaborate on the Native Plant Garden project and came up with a great student art project. Thanks to her ingenuity, over 180 K-7 students have now created native plant paintings on cedar boards!

First, we gathered cedar planks and cut them into short segments. Then, students used sandpaper and sanding blocks to smooth one side. Some students just loved sanding so much that they barely got to the painting stage, especially some of the kindergartners.

Then, each student pulled a card from the Strong Nations Plant ID deck ( They read about its edible and medicinal uses and consulted additional guidebooks if desired.

Using acrylic paints, they painted a picture of their plant and wrote the names for the plant in English, SENĆOŦEN, Hul’q’umi’num, or Latin, depending on what plant names were available on the cards.

We then coated their paintings with some clear Verathane for rain protection and drilled holes and gathered zip ties.

On June 21, students showed their art to Carl and Mikayla, learned to pronounce some of the plant names in Indigenous languages, then hung their paintings all along the chainlink fence, facing the Huy ch q’u Figure, next to the bus turnaround road. Carl was quite touched by the SENĆOŦEN language written onto the native plant paintings and used the SENĆOŦEN language app on his phone to play recorded pronunciations for some of them. We then sipped strawberry tea while Carl generously shared some beautiful drumming and songs.

This summer and fall, 2023, we plan to work with students and local Indigenous groups to advance art and signage at the site. We’re seeking additional funding for this and educational activities for 2023-24.

HÍSW̱ḴE! Huy ch q’u! Thank you for a beautiful & meaningful Indigenous Peoples Day and Summer Solstice celebration!


On Thursday, April 20th, we learned, we planted, we mulched, and built new cedar split-rail fencing with eight primary school classes and their teachers from Salt Spring Elementary, Michael and Dylan from Seven Ravens Permaculture, parent volunteers Julie-Ann, Spence, Shane, and I, and two Wwoofers, Zara and Hanna. After each class worked for 20 minutes or so planting a wide variety of native saplings & seedlings from Fraser's Thimble Farms, they were rewarded with warm salty fries from Al's Falafels--it was a great incentive!

The morning sessions went smoothly. Then, rain spattered and wind howled, making for an exciting afternoon of placing cardboard around plantings and dumping buckets of woodchips on top in order to keep down weeds and lock in moisture over the summertime.

(photos above by Zara Michales, school parent team on the right)

Meanwhile, Hanna and Dylan had augured holes and placed posts on Wednesday, and Thursday morning, Local woodsman, Colin Byron delivered a truckload of beautiful cedar split rails he'd made. Michael and Dylan then spent the day installing them and wiring and screwing the posts together. The new fence looks beautiful and will protect the plantings from being trampled.

At the community gathering earlier in the week, we'd zip-tied student-painted circular images of the eight SD64 teaching animals (designed by Quentin Harris) along with student art depicting native plants (led by teacher Christina Novak), along the chainlink fence.

During that cold, wet and windy day, I felt we were especially engendering values represented by salmon and beaver, which was appropriate as we were working restoring streamside forest, former habitat to beaver and salmon, along historical Ganges Creek.

"Salmon is the hardy symbol of resilience. Through salmon, we learn determination, inner strength and connections to ‘home’. Salmon teaches us perseverance...grit and tenacity."

"Through beaver, we learn to be diligent collaborators and community builders. Beaver teaches us to care for our community and environment by...collective hard work."

While the day was challenging and hard work, it taught me that sometimes we must swim upstream and determinedly model perseverance towards a higher goal together, especially as we strive to honour Nature in positive, reciprocal ways with children and in community, by learning about edible and medicinal plants and by creating a native plant garden for Earth Day.

Big thanks to the SSI Foundation Indigenous Priorities Fund and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation for support, along with The Rental Stop, Al's Falafels, Windsor Plywood, and especially to Seven Ravens Permaculture for donations and deep discounts!

April 16 Community Launch

Sunday morning was rainy and grey and I was discouraged. Then, I remembered what Cheryl Ruff with SD64 Indigenous Ed said to me when I bumped into her at the store earlier this week: "Remember, Robin, if you're taking an Indigenous approach with this project, then now that you've sent out the invites, just trust that the right people will be there!" That really helped me, and it was true!

A wonderful group of native plant enthusiasts arrived at the site on Sunday afternoon and in the shelter of a big red tent, we shared our names along native plant facts from the Plant Identification Cards from Strong Nations that support the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ teaching nursery.

After land acknowledgement, introductions and work-party instructions while raindrops pitter-pattered overhead, we stepped out from under the shelter and magically, the rain stopped!

Moe, Frances, Cathy, Melanie, Anna, Jean, Elizabeth, Reed, Myna Lee, Nick, Annie, Hannah, Christina, Ruth, John, plus Geo, Buddy, and Matthai, all pitched in and removed yellow flag iris, weeded the beds and spread woodchips, created a yarrow garden, or created native plant art for the fences. It was lovely. We finished at 3pm and shared some of our favourite moments, sipping a floral nettle tea with sun shining on our dirt-smudged faces.

Now, I'm getting the last native plant orders lined up, along with locally-grown & split rail fencing. Thank goodness for Michael Nickels with Seven Ravens Permaculture for moving this project along! And big thanks to Moe Wendt with the SSI Farmland Trust Permaculture Committee for the cardboard and advice, Polly Orr with Grow Local for flyer art and help planning, Nick Adamson-Jones for hauling away the iris, to Tony Copeland and Rick with SD64 Facilities for building that new footbridge and for high-quality woodchips, and to the Transition SSI Native Plant Stewardship Committee (Frances, Jean, Kathy, and Anna) for their hard work and plant donations, and to SSE Teacher Christina Novak for bringing and leading the art project, Gail Sjuberg with Driftwood News for project photos, and to Cam Proudfoot (SSI Woodchipping) for delivering mulch for the project, and to HCTF and the SSI Foundation for financial support!

We're super-looking-forward to Thursday, April 20th events for ten of the SSE classes, mentored by GISS students Earth Club and community volunteers! Thanks already to Windsor Plywood for the discount for the fenceposts! See you then!

Project Background

For Earth Day 2022, students planted native trees and shrubs around the Huy ch q'u Welcome Figure along Rainbow Road, with help from Indigenous Education Principal Shannon Johnston, Michael Nickels from Seven Ravens Permaculture, and parent volunteers like Spence Pentland. Funding was provided by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and Al's Falafels (located across the street) provided free French fries to all the students as a reward for digging and planting. It was so fun.

Then, in Autumn 2022, Michael Nickels installed a circle of cedar benches for a gathering space. A new family to the Island gave a Sunday morning to removing weeds. And, UVic Student Maya Irwin further developed a Native Plant Garden design.

Meanwhile, we met with the Stqeey'e Learning Society and visited other Native Plant Gardens in the region, including the Ethnobotany Trail at the Gardens at HCP, the interpretive signs designed by W̱SÁNEĆ artist, Sarah Jim at the new SMONEĆTEN campground, and the most inspirational Mayne Island Conservancy's Ethnobotany Garden.

In March, 2023, funding was awarded by the Salt Spring Foundation Indigenous Priorities Fund to further this project with Earth Day events and connections with the future Thu-it Exhibit.


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