On June 19, 20 and 26 Lady Flower Gardens had its Bioblitz! The Bioblitz happens so we can better understand the composition, abundance, and distribution of vegetation in the New Jubilee Forest. Nathan Binnema, a first-time volunteer, devoted a significant amount of time into the Bioblitz this year. Kelly had a chance to talk to him about it!
How did you hear about this year’s Bioblitz? Nathan Binnema: I heard about the Bioblitz from Rocky Feroe and Eric Gormley. They are members of a group called Edmonton Phenological Engagement Group that I also attend.
What is the Edmonton Phenological Engagement Group? N: The group consists of 10 people that are interested in learning local ecology together. Each member has a small site that they will go visit for a couple of hours each week. Just to observe and watch what is changing. Then, every new moon the group gets together, and everyone shares what they noticed and what changes happened in their spot. I learned this exercise from an online Blackfoot phenology course from Ryan FirstDiver.
What was the most interesting thing that you learned from that course? N: I learned about the existence of Beaver Bundles - and my understanding of these matters is very rudimentary, and no doubt inaccurate to some degree, but which in my understanding are the physical embodiment of the original treaty between Blackfoot people and the other plant and animal nations of Blackfoot Territory. I learned that when settlers first arrived in Blackfoot territory, some of them were transferred Beaver Bundles with the intention that they would take on the responsibility of training with them, to be brought into the already standing ecological relations and what was essential to live well as human beings in Blackfoot Territory (the settlers misunderstood and put the Beaver Bundles in museums. Some of them were later repatriated). Learning even this small amount helped me understand how and why reconciliation with Indigenous Nations necessarily implies reconciliation with the land.
Why did you participate in this year’s Bioblitz? N: I have always been interested in ecology and for quite some time I have been interested in what changes happen in this particular place. I first became aware of this place and its special value because of the advocacy work that was done a decade or so ago to save it from getting developed. I have lived in Edmonton my entire life and I felt it was important to support a local organization that is working and making an effort to live in a life honouring way. I also wanted to volunteer because I have some connections to Doug and his family.
What are all of the tasks that you completed in support of this year’s Bioblitz? N: I reviewed last year’s data collections sheets in order to create a more up-to-date one for this year. I developed the wild-plant identification page on the Lady Flower Gardens website alongside Miriam Mahaffy and Patsy Cotterill. I went through the forest with Miriam Mahaffy to double check that the flags from last year were still in their proper locations and helped survey for 2 of the 3 Bioblitz days. I also baked 4 trays of cinnamon buns for the participants to enjoy!
Is there anything else you would like people to know? N: I would highly recommend Ryan FirstDiver’s online course, it is definitely worth your time!
During the week of June 14-18 there was a King’s University Course being held on the Lady Flower Gardens land. It was facilitated by Darcy Visscher and Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning. Every morning this course would have a ceremonial time to reflect and think deeply about where they are and what social inequalities exist in our world, as well as the reconciliation that needs to happen. Allie had a chance to sit down with Darcy and Jonathan to get a better understanding of the course! If you would like to view a detailed description of who came to speak to the students you can access that from the button below!
What do you do at King’s? Darcy Visscher: I am a professor of biology, focusing on ecology and my research includes looking at urban ecology using cameras, looking at parasites and wildlife in urban settings. Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning: I am the program director of the Micah Centre at The King’s University. The centre exists to foster both education and awareness, but also to equip students to take action on issues of justice, anti-poverty, reconciliation and peacemaking. This could look like experiential learning, workshops and conferences or facilitating internship opportunities.
What is this course about? Can you break it down? Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning: The title is “A place to belong: Justice, Land & Place”. That title is the framework for the course. So, using the land, specifically the Lady Flower Gardens land, as a lens for thinking about our relationship to the land but also our relationship with whom we share the land. As well, our relationship to the people who were here way before we as settlers were here and our relationship to the non-human creatures on the land and what that says about who we are and how we live well with each other. And Finally, our relationship with ourselves the creator and the rest of creation. So, what this actually looks like is a ‘hodge-podge’ of speakers sharing their stories and getting the students to think about the land. Darcy Visscher: This course is interdisciplinary by nature. So, let’s break it down. The first day was understanding the physical and environmental place that we are and letting the land tell its own story. We learned about the intimate history of this specific land and the background of the natural aspects. The second day was focusing on the histories of people on the land, us as settlers, the history of the river valley, and what it means to be a part of the land J: Tuesday afternoon touched on topics of how to live well and how to live in a good way in connection to the student's own personal stories. Wednesday started with a reflection on value, focusing on the value of the land but also the economic aspects of the land. But also, the deeper sense of value and how do we think about that but also how do we practice that in our lives and economies. D: As well, understanding what we received from the land as a gift! J: Wednesday afternoon we had a discussion and ceremony in the forest. We were given a Cree understanding of land but also some of the things that have happened to Cree nations on the land here, whether that is the Indian residential school system or the foster care system, and just talking about that forced disconnection from the land and what that has meant for Cree people. Then in the afternoon, we talked about a different understanding of the relationships we have with the land and well-being. Focusing on global Indigenous and modern western European outlooks and how they conflict on what they believe a human being is and how they relate to the creation. D: And how community gardens such as Lady Flower Gardens can mitigate those problems. Thursday is a practical day. After learning about the land and observing the problems associated with the land and land ownership for 3 days, we then looked at how the citizens of this land now can do things differently. We are coming to a better understanding that we share the land. Even in urban cities, we are sharing the land with wildlife. We have a new type of relationship with the land, as new as the last 50 years, so just working out the kinks as we better learn how to understand this type of relationship and be in a right relationship with organisms. The students then heard about the Edmonton Area Land Trust and gained an understanding of what it is alongside conservation easements. This got us back to the Jubilee Forest and Lady Flower Gardens specifically. We heard about organic and sustainable agriculture and no-till farming. As well, how to remain in a good relationship with the land while still producing on the land. On Friday we heard about returning to stories and how you tell your story from the place that you belong. We did a contemplative walk where we thought about how to be on the land. Then a Cree visual artist showed us how to use our identity and the visual arts to tell our story. We ended off our week with a storyteller and poet who showed us how to hear other's stories and tell our own stories through these visual arts. What inspired you to create this course? D: I’m on the LFG advisory board on behalf of The King’s University, and I have been really impressed with the work that is being done here. There is an idea that we need to integrate student learning and education into the LFG model that exists, so, in ‘baby-steps’ we created this course. I talked with Jonathan about doing this and we discussed that you do not need to go too far off places to find issues of social justice. This place, LFG, is a great example of all those social injustices and the modes of reconciliation. The pitch for this course was to re-think how that would happen here. J: Doug Visser has participated in the Quest Mexico* trip through King’s and has often thought about hosting a similar educational experience here at LFG. Unfortunately, it has just never worked out, but then a bunch of things happened which really gave us a chance to think about how to do this and do this well. I share the same sentiment that Darcy mentioned, I don’t think you need to get into an airplane and fly somewhere else to think about how to make the world a better and more humane place than it is. I think that Lady Flower Gardens and being on the land together is a great way to think about those things. There’s something about getting out of a classroom and being outdoors and on the land that allows students to think about things in a different way and this is an opportunity to do that. Why did you find it important to include a lot of Indigenous voices this week? D: Well, if the goal is to imagine a path of renewal and reconciliation and how to be active agents within that we need to realize that the indigenous peoples are disproportionately found in socially insecure situations. Therefore, it seemed really important to both of us to gain a better understanding of how the indigenous peoples view the world around them and how they feel they belong in this place so that we could think of ways to stand with them and move towards a renewal of the relationship. We agreed that we needed the indigenous stories to be woven within every day of the course and we have been absolutely blessed with the people that have spoken with grace throughout this week. I think it has been really good for the students to be forced into thinking of these issues from a different perspective. J: The subtitle of this course is ‘justice, land and place’ so I think the history of injustice and landlessness and ‘placelessness’ both for settler communities and indigenous communities can’t be told without the story of settler-indigenous contact. Including treaties and broken commitments and the ramifications of all that up until now. I also think that connecting with the speakers that we have connected with because of this course is giving us a path forward and a path beyond the place that we are stuck now, where we are so disconnected from the land we are on. What do you hope students will get out of this course? D: Bare minimum I hope these students have had 5 days to be out of a classroom to think deeply about these problems, their relationships with the land, with others who have been on the land before us and those who are on the land now. If these 5 days have caused these students to reflect on those specific topics, then hey, I think we’ve done something good! Our hope is that the students will leave this place and this course thinking differently and after having heard these stories from our guest speakers the student’s stories will change for the better. I know this won’t happen for all 20 students but if it happens for 1 or 2, those life-changing stories can lead to a renewal of relationships and that is all teacher’s hope and dream. We have this whole gradient of expectations but for some students, it might just be 5 days where they can focus and reflect on these topics and for others, it could change the way they see the world moving forward and how they tell their own story. J: Most of these students are not going to be living in a place like Lady Flower Gardens but moving forward we hope this can inspire them and invite them to think about their own places differently. That could be practical, as the students come to know their place better, but it could also be the bigger picture aspect of this course where they think about the land they live on, the history of it and how it affects their faith commitments. As well, how it changes the way they live their lives and build relationships with others. I know I have been inspired to do that again this week so it would be great if students went back to their own place with new eyes. D: As well if this course inspired these students to want to work with other organizations like LFG that work with disadvantaged people. That’s a win too. While creating this course and through this week, what have you two gotten out of this? D: Probably more than the students! You have to contact all of these people to come speak to our students and I was joking that when you ask 15 people to speak you just hope 10 show up but in this situation everyone we asked showed up! I think this happened because people recognize the importance of a course like this. For me, it has been wonderful to listen to not only the speakers but also the questions that the students have been asking. I am definitely learning alongside these students. I don’t see Jonathan and myself as teachers of this course, we are barely facilitators, we start the coffee in the morning, and it just goes. J: I was inspired to extend my circle of relationships further. Many of the speakers were already in a relationship of some sort with Darcy or I, but there are some people that we heard about and met through this course. So, I have been really inspired to expand my own relationships within Edmonton but also looking at how King’s and the Micah Centre can expand their relationships. Why did you choose to host the course at LFG? D: I have an inkling of what goes on here being on the advisory board and personally this is just an amazing full circle. For me when I come here there is a little part of home as well, my parents came over on the same boat as Doug’s dad from Holland and my dad attended the school just down the road. This land is being utilized so well, it is active in agriculture and in dealing with social justice issues and food insecurity within Edmonton. The land sits next to the river which shapes us and the forest which is just so unique. It has the confluence of all the things that you would need to feel where these discussions need to happen. As well, Doug and his family have been long-standing supporters of The King’s University and the Micah centre so having the course here is just coming full circle. J: I have family connections here, so I know this place a little bit as well. My wife is connected to the Visser family, so I have spent lots of time here and this is just a way to further along that relationship. This place is so ideally situated for the students, and it is such a great unique environment.
*This trip centres on themes of social justice and peace, as well as cultivating respect for our common humanity. The program is offered through a partnership between the Micah Centre at The King’s University and Quest Mexico--a non-profit organization devoted to bringing social justice and peace through transformative, experiential education. (https://www.kingsu.ca/programs/study-abroad/quest-mexico)