Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon works to lead aboriginal and non-aboriginal children and caregivers to a place of mental, emotional and spiritual strength. They do this by providing a healthy environment that reflects the cultural values of the extended family through the presence of strong, caring people who come to share and carry on their love, skills, language, and knowledge. The garden at Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwedoon was originally planted in the 1990s, but due to the difficulty of keeping it maintained over the summer with minimal staff, it became unusable. In the third year of the United Way of Thunder Bay’s GenNext Day of Caring program (DOC), Shkoday applied to have help in getting the garden reestablished at their John Street Road location as a project. Since that first project in 2014, DOC has returned to install and mend fencing, plant the crops including a medicine wheel, and weed the garden.
Shkoday’s Executive Director Marilyn Junnila tells us that the garden and its harvests provide an integral part of their teachings and activities. Amongst other benefits, the garden provides practical skills-based learning, cultural teaching opportunities, and food for each of the programs they run. Thunder Bay Aboriginal Head Start is offered to children aged 2 to 6 years of age and features structured play activities and experiences, allowing for growth in learning and nurturing environment. Biwaase’aa, which is funded in part by United Way, is a culturally designed program that provides Aboriginal youth aged 7 to 13 years and their families with a fun opportunity to participate in programs which contribute to their cultural, mental, physical and emotional well-being providing them with the necessary tools to make healthier lifestyle choices as the youth grow older.
Junnila tells us of the joy the young children have with getting their hands dirty and working in the garden. A group of toddlers loved going out to harvest the potatoes so much that one year after a few short days, the patch was completely emptied. The staff, seeing how much pride the youngsters had gained from their efforts, began going out in the evening to “re-plant” the potatoes so they could be pulled out by the children once again the next day. The garden keeps the kids physically active, but also helps them grow spiritually and emotionally. They watch the plants take root and see how they flourish when they are nurtured properly, they learn about how the plants they tend to are prepared into the foods they eat which in turn nourish their bodies, and they see how amazing things can be accomplished when people work together.
In its programs, one of the teachings that Shkoday uses is The Three Sisters, an Indigenous legend about three sisters who lived in a field together: Corn, Squash, and Beans. Although each was very different from the other, they were each beautiful in their own way. Their unique qualities provided benefits to each sister; they supported each other and together they grew very strong. These ingredients are prepared together in a traditional soup which also has very valuable nutritional benefits to all those who eat it. This message is one that speaks to the work of Shkoday, and also United Way and its Day of Caring. Going beyond one single agency, United Way invests in a network of dynamic programs and initiatives that bring people together, building a community that is united, vibrant & strong. Day of Caring brings together dedicated individuals and local not-for-profit organizations for a fun day of volunteering to benefit our whole community. Hundreds of volunteers donate their time and skills to help complete projects for local not-for-profit organizations.
In 2017, in just one day, DOC volunteers completed the equivalent of 30 hours’ worth of weeding for the Daniel Brooks Memorial Garden at Shkoday. Junnila notes that without DOC, that is an undertaking they would not have been able to complete alone. She encourages individuals, workplace groups, and families to volunteer for the 7th Annual Day of Caring which takes place on Saturday, June 16, 2018.
Past projects DOC volunteers have helped with include jobs such as: cleaning up neighbourhoods, planting gardens, painting (inside and out), cleaning up offices, volunteering at special day-long events/client service projects, helping to prepare meals, and much more! For more information about Day of Caring visit www.uwaytbay.ca, or by contact Erika at firstname.lastname@example.org 626-1759.