“In some Native languages, the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us.'”Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Izhi-Minoging Mashkikiwan, or “Place Where Medicines Grow Well,” is the Anishinaabemowin name of a healing garden inspired by the traditional Ojibwe Medicine Wheel. The garden belongs to the Cheboiganing Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Cheboygan County. I talked with recent SEAS graduate, Eva Roos, on how she collaborated with the Burt Lake Band to design and create this garden for her masters practicum for landscape architecture.
For Roos, the practicum was a rare opportunity to combine and expand on her interests of ethnobotany, indigenous culture, and landscape design. Roos notes that the current landscape architecture curriculum lacks the vital connection with indigenous culture. As the designer, she says, “It’s important to think about who calls this landscape home.” Coming from a place of passion for native plants, Roos emphasizes the importance in recognizing those who have cared for these keystone plants and ecosystems for thousands of years.
In the 1700s, The Cheboiganing Band began calling the area along Burt Lake their homeland. This is where they had their first permanent Chippewa village. This location is near a safe channel of rivers and lakes that have aided Indigenous routes for hundreds of years. In 1836, the Treaty of Washington was signed by Chief Chingassimo from the Cheboigan Indian Village. The treaty initiated the ceding of 13.6 million acres of Anishinaabe land to the U.S government in exchange for educational and farming resources and the erasure of debts. The treaty also outlined the protection of a 1000 acre site of ancestral land. This treaty was violated in 1900, when two white men, a county sheriff and a timber worker, forced the people from their homes and burned the village that resided within the 1000 acre protected homeland. People from the Cheboigan Indian Village had to seek shelter with other families nearby. Even today, the legally promised ancestral land of the Burt Lake Band remains stolen, despite the promises of the treaty.
The Band has also been fighting for a reaffirmation of federal recognition as a Native American Tribe for decades. The 1855 Treaty of Detroit had ensured the Band’s status as a sovereign nation, but the federal government has failed to revalidate these terms. Status as a federally recognized tribe would provide tribal sovereignty, legal protection of land, and a number of federal benefits for healthcare, education, and more.
The garden is located at the Band’s headquarters at 3062 Indian Rd. in Brutus, Michigan. The community had expressed how the previous landscape did not reflect their values and culture. The process of developing the garden design involved a genuine partnership. Thoughtful collaboration and guidance from the Band was integral to creating such a beautiful and culturally-meaningful space for healing, learning, gathering, and ceremony.
The garden features around 40 native perennial species that are well adapted to full sun and well-draining soil. From spring to fall, the different species will bloom throughout the growing months, providing new color and texture to the garden. A distinctive color palette paints each direction of the garden to symbolize the different spirit keepers and their teachings. The major directions and themes of interconnected teachings are included below:
- Waabanong or East: Where we come from, begin our journey.
- Zhaawanong or South: The time of growth and youth.
- Niingaabi’anong or West: Reminder of constant change within us, the death of former selves.
- Giiwedinong or North: Period of rest, contemplation, wisdom.
The garden design draws from Anishinaabe aesthetics of artistic bead patterns. As seen in the diagram below, the various species are denoted with the different colors that make up the symbolic color palette from the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel.
Roos expressed a fond appreciation for all of the beautiful and unique native vegetation featured in the garden, but the sage particularly caught her admiration. White Sagebrush, Artemisia ludoviciana, is beautifully aromatic with a soft silvery hue. This medicinal and ceremonial plant is placed at the west section of the wheel, also known as Niingaabi’anong. This section is associated with the color black and the autumn season. Roos says the sage has already proliferated after only a short period of time within the ground. The young sage is happy to have found a new forever home!
The most significant competitor in the garden is the Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum, a charming, but undesired, native species within the landscape. Band members and volunteers from the U-M Biostation have worked hard to keep this fern at bay. Despite this species’ unwelcomed advancements, Roos expresses a certain gratitude towards the presence of the Bracken Fern. She says all gardens require care and attention. Having to remove the fern has brought people to work alongside one another in nature. Seeing and touching plants is not only educational, but also an important connection for people to experience. With persistent efforts, the fern should be an equal competitor in the garden in about 3 years. By that time, the featured perennial species should have grown to their full size.
Sustainability has always been an important feature for Roos in the development of this project. The perennial species were planted in a dense matrix to outcompete weeds and limit the amount of necessary maintenance. Native plants also have the capacity to live long and radiant lives when cared for and loved. Roos hopes that the Burt Lake Band will feel that the garden is their own and that they are confident in maintaining its beauty and diversity. Roos has seen the Band’s enthusiasm in working on the garden, and she trusts that they can take on this responsibility.
On the final day of planting, Roos was unable to lead the work day. A fellow friend and Band member, Kathy Matthews, enthusiastically stepped up to guide community members during the planting day. This passing of the torch represented the sustainability that Roos had hoped and worked for in creating the garden with the Burt Lake Band. Working alongside Band members during tribal meeting days and being able to build relationships within the community was one of the most important parts of this project.
When interpreting subjects like ecosystems, community, and sustainability, it’s important to recognize that there are dimensions of understanding that exist outside the lens of a Western perspective. Roos says that this project and landscape design is “a practice in both translation and decolonization.” She hopes the sustainability of the garden not only encompasses the long-term care of the native plants, but also all of the purposes the garden may serve for future generations of the Burt Lake Band.
Even though Roos has graduated from the University of Michigan, she knows she will return to Izhi-Minoging Mashkikiwan to connect with the plants and the friends she has made along the way.
For more information about the Burt Lake Band, click here to visit their official website. To learn more about the Izhi-Minoging Mashkikiwan landscape design and other works, visit Eva Roos’ ecological arts and landscape design website.