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Campus, community create Wabanaki Heritage Project garden

Members of the campus and community are working together to create a new garden for the University that is tied to the local region and Native American culture.

Professors Alice Sheppard and Dave Putnam received a 2009 Project Compass Educational Mini-Grant for about $1,000 this summer to work with students and community members on the installation of representative plant specimens at a small plot near the central campus park woods. These plants are used by the region’s Native peoples in many ways, including food, healing, dyes, ceremonies, and artifacts.

Putnam is serving as supervisor of this project and Sheppard, who has been trained as a master gardener, is providing assistance, soil preparation, soil enhancement and obtaining plants. Under the guidance of Maliseet (Wolastuqiyik) elder and medicine man Rocky Bear, of the Tobique First Nation, student Jenn Prokey is studying Native Plants, designing the garden, and developing an informative brochure about it as a senior science project. According to Putnam, traditional knowledge regarding the use of the plants is coupled with a traditional ethos about how and when to gather them. Symbolic offerings of “medicines” illustrate the belief that when one takes, one must give, and when one disturbs a living thing, it must be done in “a good way.”

Rocky Bear said that, for him, this project is an excellent opportunity to share an important part of the Maliseet culture with Native and non-Native people alike.

“It’s for everyone who wants to learn,” Bear said. “My hope is that there will be more Native content in the school’s curriculum and that more Native content will be implemented in the classroom.”

Dr. Robert Pinette also is supporting the creation of the garden, consulting on the identification and plant habitats. Community partners Jeanie McGowan and MaryAnn McHugh have offered their experience and extra plants from the Nylander Museum in Caribou to the project. Glenda and Gordon Wysote (Mi’kmaq) have contributed their knowledge of medicinal plants in the creation of the garden.

Work on the garden began this summer with the removal of competing vegetation from the plot, soil enrichment with humus and an 8-week solarization process. An order has been placed for additional plants to complete the garden. Plant labels in English and Maliseet as well as a sign for the garden will be installed this fall.

Professors anticipate that the garden will be utilized in courses involving anthropology, botany and environmental science.

“It is interesting to learn that the plants we see in the rest stops, roadsides, and at local parks were used for thousands of years by Native Americans. Jenn’s project helps anyone identify them, while creating a living tribute to Wabanaki peoples,” Sheppard said.