A 'field of dreams' for Aboriginal cultural school

Edmonton's amiskwaciy Academy creating a traditional garden to grow educational opportunities

When Lloyd Bloomfield looks out his school’s backdoor at three raised berms overgrown with quackgrass, he doesn’t see weeds. He sees a future garden, ripe with possibility.

“It’s our field of dreams. I want to watch a new garden grow and create new opportunities for our kids,” says Bloomfield, assistant principal of amiskwaciy Academy, an Edmonton high school that serves 210 Aboriginal students in Grades 7 to 12.

Originally built as a landscape barrier, the berms, which measure 30 feet across, are a legacy from the days when the building served as Edmonton’s municipal airport terminal, and planes landed along nearby runways. The runways have long since been removed, and since 2002, the building has served one of Canada’s first high schools focused on Aboriginal culture.

Financed by a grant of $15,000 from Enbridge, Bloomfield and others at the Academy plan to transform one of the berms into a traditional plant garden. It’s the latest step in creating an enriched learning environment for the school’s students, who hail from First Nations and Métis communities across Western Canada and the Northwest Territories.

In spring 2016, compost and loam will be added to restore soil, and staff and students will begin planting, while the school’s shop class and Enbridge employees work together to build benches.

“The garden will become an area where teachers will be able to incorporate hands-on learning for subjects taught in our school,” Bloomfield says of the garden space, which will be used as an outdoor classroom for science studies, and a venue for traditional ceremonies.

Adding a traditional plant garden seems fitting at a school where culture is at the core of every activity. Named from the Cree term for “Beaver Hills” (and the Cree phrase for Edmonton when it was first settled), amiskwaciy Academy immerses students in Aboriginal culture, such as dance, traditional ceremonies and the medicine wheel, in addition to academic and vocational programs.

“We link our teachings very closely to Mother Earth. The new garden is going to be used as a teaching tool and to share our traditional values,” says Francis Whiskeyjack, an Elder who works at the school, who will help select traditional plants for the site. “The garden is going to add beauty and to our sense of pride in the school.”

The garden project was announced by amiskwaciy Academy in October, during its annual Fall Feast celebration.

“One of our focus areas for community investment is education,” says Zoe Rezac, an Aboriginal community investment and training advisor with Enbridge. “The school has a really strong vision for how this garden could be used, and it’s exciting to see how many different aspects of education at the school it could affect.”