PEPAKEN HAUTW was named by STOLȻEȽ (John Elliot, Tsartlip First Nation elder) when the greenhouse was first constructed about fifteen years ago. As time permitted, STOLȻEȽ, Tye Swallow (Saanich Adult Education Centre Facilitator/Instructor) and other participants from ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School used the greenhouse as a place to grow vegetables and even some native plants over the years. However there were so many other projects happening in the school, especially with the incredible SENȻOŦEN revitalization work, that PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ became used less over time.
In the winter of 2010, local ethnoecologist Judith Lyn Arney met with Tye to discuss the possibility of using this wonderful space to grow native plants for use in her graduate restoration work at SṈIDȻEȽ (Tod Inlet) for SeaChange Marine Conservation Society. Since SeaChange has a long history of partnership in environmental education with the Tribal School and SṈIDȻEȽ is one of the most sacred places in W̱SÁNEĆ territory, the request was enthusiastically approved! Over the following months, the interior of the greenhouse was cleaned out and began to come alive with cuttings and seed trays full of native plants from around W̱SÁNEĆ territory.
In May 2011, the Horner Foundation approved funding for a garden education initiative at the Tribal School in partnership with the organization Feasting for Change organized by Fiona Devereaux (VIHA). Earl Claxton Jr (Tsawout First Nation elder) and Cara Barter (Tsimshian First Nation) began preparing garden beds outside the greenhouse at PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱, as well as the adult centre garden, for growing vegetables with the students. By September 2011, the two projects blooming at PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ - the native plant nursery and the garden - joined forces to become the first version of the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Native Plants & Garden Program! The team of Earl Claxton Jr, Cara Barter and Judith Lyn Arney offered workshops to the Tribal School students from the nursery and elementary levels all the way up to adult learners. Students were so eager to participate in these hands on activities in the garden, and excitedly shared about their own cultural connection to native plants!
Over the winter of 2011-2012, the outdoor areas of PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ underwent a radical transformation, as we cleared out piles of tires, gravel and blackberry to create space for six more raised beds and two large native plant gardens. All through the next year classes from the Tribal School came to workshops at PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ and had the chance to get their hands dirty planting seeds, mixing soils, propagating native plants and growing vegetables!
Workshops at PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ continued until December 2012 when funds from the Horner Foundation came to a close. Meetings with ȽTS teachers, W̱SÁNEĆ community members and local educators all indicated a strong interest for the program to continue. There was a clear desire to see the connection to native plants and W̱SÁNEĆ culture emphasized, as well as providing opportunities for knowledge sharing at community feasts and educational events. Additionally, the teachers said they would benefit from a strategic approach connecting workshop material to classroom curriculum. Many teachers and community members were engaged by the idea of taking a diverse approach to food skills which included traditional food ecosystems as well as vegetable gardens. We knew that on a practical level, a program of this scope would require significant funding and resources.
With the support of Horner Foundation and VIHA, Judith approached Lifecycles Project Society to propose a partnership with PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱. Lifecycles Growing Schools has a fantastic track record doing garden education in schools throughout the Victoria area, an ethos of serving communities, and an expertise in grant research and writing. Former Executive Director Jeannette Sheehy was very open to a partnership which would also expand the vision of Lifecycles to include more First Nations culture, knowledge and voice in their food literacy education. Former Lifecycles Growing Schools Coordinator Shannon Raison began working on the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ team with Earl Claxton Jr and Judith Lyn Arney, bringing her expertise in vegetable gardens and fundraising to the program. The team began writing grants together and met with ȽTS teachers to lay the foundation for the next version of the program.
By May 2014 we had received substantial funding from Vancouver Island Aboriginal Health Initiative Program, United Way and VanCity! As Shannon and Jeannette transitioned out of Lifecycles, new Executive Director Maurita Prato took over as our Lifecycles partner on the ground, conducting workshops and working with us to develop the program. Since September 2014, we have been delivering hands-on workshops that includes ethnobotany, native plant propagation, planting vegetable gardens, harvesting both native and garden foods, growing fungus and mushrooms, tasting and discovering seaweeds and seagrasses, doing ecological restoration, as well as practicing the skills of traditional crafts with community elders and knowledge keepers.
In September 2015 the Horner Foundation rejoined our funding team, this time with program funding emphasizing leadership skills in youth and traditional skill building at the high school level. This includes building skills in reefnet technology, food preparation and preservation, compost building, and garden development. As our program has grown more deeply connected to community, Lifecycles has moved into a supportive role, assisting us with events, special workshops, and facilitating the transition of our financial administration to the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board. This year we are excited to have a new team member from the community, Ashlee Cooper (Tsartlip First Nation)! Ashlee is bringing in her passion for native plants and healthy foods, as well as a welcome infusion of SENĆOŦEN, to enrich the program even further.
PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ also continues to be a vibrant working native plant nursery to supply local restoration projects with native plants, including SṈIDȻEȽ (Tod Inlet), ȾIX̱EṈ (Cordova Spit) and ȾIXEL (Maber Flats). Students regularly do restoration field trips to these special places in W̱SÁNEĆ territory, stewarding these precious areas for generations to come.
Our Native Plants & Garden Program is continually evolving to be a better resource for native plant and garden education in the W̱SÁNEĆ community and beyond, fostering healthy and traditional food skills in youth and making meaningful steps towards food security and indigenous food sovereignty in the community.
We look forward to an exciting future!