By Nina Badwal – July 2021 –
Muslim families planting flowers in a garden to honour the Indigenous residential school survivors and the children who never made it back home. That was the scene outside the St. James Town Community Corner on June 30th.
The annual event, “Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams” started in June 2015 by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. It took place at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s closing ceremonies.
Inspired by the idea, the Muslim Children’s Aid & Support Services (MCASS) decided to partner with the Native Child & Family Services of Toronto to bring the project here. “With the garden, we are planting six flower species that correspond to six areas of [calls to] action from the TRC. We have child welfare, education, culture, language, health and justice,” explains Emel Tabaku, Community Services Officer at MCASS.
“The flowers we are planting are lavender, asters, sedum; we have black-eyed Susan, and blueberry. We couldn’t find the flower that corresponds with education just because it’s currently out of stock.”
The garden also represents a commitment to reconciliation; and the event’s Indigenous-Muslim partnership is one of mutual understanding. “The Muslim communities are grieving with all the Islamophobic attacks that have been going on, not only in London but also in Edmonton and other places across Canada – all of these attacks have come to light. But also, the Indigenous communities are grieving with the uncovering of unmarked graves at former residential school sites,” says Tabaku.
Tabaku, who proposed and organized the Toronto venture, initially wanted to pay homage to the 215 Indigenous students found buried on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. “But we did not plan for more graves to have been uncovered – that happened as the whole planning of the event took place. That was very heartbreaking and disheartening but at the same time it was a very timely project.”
The Corner provided the space for the garden with an agreement until 2023 – keeping the flowers blooming in hopes of healing Indigenous communities in mourning. “The garden is a long-term project. It’s to highlight the fact that reconciliation is not a one-time activity; it’s supposed to take years – seven generations or more. That is why gardens are planted; it carries that ideology behind it, as well as the whole cycle of birth and death when it comes to flowers and connecting with Mother Earth.”