It was on a beautiful August day that the First Nations Garden was inaugurated at the Jardin botanique de Montréal almost twenty years ago. I took up my job as cultural officer on September 10, 2001, the day before an event that would change the world. I remember seeing the first picture of what was happening in New York on the screen of my computer, at the main pavilion… I don’t know why, but September 11 was a driving element for the new work that was waiting for me at the Garden. An inner voice was telling me: the planet’s in the process of changing; let’s take advantage of that to bring peoples together in a peaceful way.
A Garden of encounters
The objectives sought by the committee of Aboriginal experts involved creating a meeting point among cultures and a place of healing. Over the years, the Garden has become not only a partner of the cultural and artistic community of the ten Québec First Nations and the Inuit,* but also grown into a landmark for a great many visitors hoping to gain a closeness with and knowledge of these cultures. The human dimension has always been at the core of activities and events. This natural setting offers an ideal context for creating links between humans and nature, but also among humans of diverse cultures. In the philosophy of Aboriginal peoples, one thing does not go without the other; everything is interconnected, from the smallest form of life to the largest. Which is why the cultural programming focuses on the dynamic forces of the environment. For example, we’ve hosted elders, specialists in botany, stage performers, poets, visual artists, craftspeople, authors, filmmakers, and much more!
The great challenge of the Garden was making it an inhabited place. I’m certain that the wonderful energies expended over all these years by inspiring people have shaped the spot in a certain way and imbued it with a very special spirit. For Aboriginal peoples, the immaterial dimension of things is as important as the material dimension. There’s always a connection between the earthly world and the heavenly world.
Always a step forward
In the years ahead, we hope to integrate young Aboriginal people more in the carrying out of cultural and artistic activities. There are a lot of talents out there, all of them very eager to express themselves. The natural environment is very inspiring for them. Like the other project, the Garden incorporates in its landscaping a number of poems of gratitude to Mother Earth. These are writings by primarily male spiritual guides. We also want to showcase Aboriginal female poets, who are very dynamic in the current cultural sector. Some of them have greater visibility thanks to social media and the world of television. During the year there will be an exhibition of archival photographs (reproductions) from the collection of Jacques Rousseau, former director of the Jardin botanique, and of Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk, curator and mediator of Inuit art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. That collaboration is invaluable, showing as it does the attachment of the Aboriginal community to the Jardin botanique de Montréal. It’s truly a case of an adoption of the institution.
One of the great qualities of the First Nations Garden is the fact of its being a permanent place, fully integrated into Space for Life, one that can only get better with the years. Since it opened, a wonderful cultural diversity has inhabited our trails. The Garden occupies a modest place in all this process of healing and reconciliation, but we can only hope that in the near future there will be more and more locations where people can be introduced to and get to enjoy the richness of these cultures. Let’s allow ourselves to keep dreaming, because our ancestors associated dreams with the overall welfare of human beings. And what could be better than a garden…for dreaming!
*The spelling of the word Inuit complies with the original language. Inuit is a plural word meaning “men,” “folk,” “people.”