October 9, 2023
Where “the bees are happy visiting:” A living classroom
Established in lush ground on the Duluth campus, the recently established medicine garden – named Minwedamoog amoog mawadishiwewaad or “the bees are happy visiting” – is already a vital part of the College’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Serving as a space where students can learn about the Ojibwe culture, traditional healing practices and the importance of environmental stewardship, this curricular and co-curricular place will provide many opportunities for the greater community to reflect on the culture and language of Indigenous people for many harvests to come.
The project is deeply tied to the College’s official land acknowledgement statement developed in partnership with the Monastery — planting and tending the garden is a tangible practice that is part of the College’s commitment to honor and value the living people of today and of the past. “This project, in some ways, is coming full circle,” reflected Dr. Amy Bergstrom, Chief Diversity Officer. “The garden is a way of healing between distinct communities. This is a way to honor the past and look to the future.”
Planting the Seed
It started as general conversation between Dr. Bergstrom and Sister Theresa (Teri) Spinler of the St. Scholastica Monastery on ways to engage the broader community in Native Initiatives and has turned into much more than that. With the idea of a traditional medicine garden on campus, the pair consulted elder and Fond du Lac Band member, Dawn LaPrairie. LaPrairie and fellow members of the Band generously shared their cultural knowledge, approaches and ideas for the garden, connecting Dr. Bergstrom and Sister Teri to an Indigenous gardener to make the idea a reality.
From there, Sister Teri helped to establish the initial space for the garden, eventually providing additional space for an open gazebo on behalf of the Monastery. Walkways have also been added to make the space accessible to those who need assistance and to those who use wheelchairs. “It was important that as we grew and designed the space, it was accessible for all who visit the space,” recognized Jennifer Niemi (EdD expected ’25), who provided significant support for the garden during her time as director of Native Studies and Initiatives at the College.
Naming the Garden
LaPrairie, who also serves as a Native Initiatives Advisory member, would go on to name the garden located to the right of the bridge of the main entrance to the Duluth campus Minwedamoog amoog mawadishiwewaad or “the bees are happy visiting.” In keeping with the Anishinaabe tradition, naming is an essential aspect of the Ojibwe tradition: a regional elder is asked to name space, and through prayer and dreams, a name is given. A small feast to accept this name was hosted at the garden. The name gives meaning and connection to the broader aspects of the community’s work.
To say that LaPrairie and her fellow Fond du Lac Band members have been instrumental in the success of the project would be an understatement. “We really have to give credit to Sister Teri and Dawn LaPrairie for making this possible for us,” concluded Niemi.
Credit is also due to the foundations who provided grant support for the garden. The College received funding from the Ordean Foundation’s Special Initiatives grant, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation’s Anishinabe Fund, Enterprise Holdings Foundation, and The Big Ten Academic Alliance Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) and Indigenous Languages Partnership program at the University of Michigan in support of the garden. “These grants have been really instrumental in purchasing dirt, seeds and other supplies needed,” stated Niemi. Dr. Bergstrom and Amanda Abrahamson Roseth ’13 (MBA, MAM ’15), director of Foundation and Government Resources (FGR), were especially essential in these funding efforts.
Designing the Garden
As the garden develops, updates to the design will be community- and elder-driven to reflect traditional Ojibwe teachings. A variety of medicinal herbs, including tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar are featured; these plants were carefully chosen for their healing properties and cultural significance.
- Tobacco (Asemaa): Used in prayer, ceremonies and giftings
- Sweetgrass (Wiingashk): Used for positive energy and in ceremonies and basketry
- Sage (Bashkodejiibik): Used in ceremony preparation and cleansing of mind, body and spirit
- Cedar (Giizhik): Used in protection, purification and rice harvesting
The garden is also home to a Three Sisters Garden, which includes corn, beans and squash as important staples of Ojibwe cuisine. In practice since the 1300s by the Iroquois, this single-planting method provides mutually beneficial growing conditions for the three plants. The combination of plants are designed to “all take care of each other,” explained Niemi. “These plants are traditionally used in the community in many different ways.”
Student Support of the Garden
There has been significant support from the College community and beyond for the project. “We have a really great group of people who have been caring for the garden,” reflected Niemi. Mikayla Eldredge (expected ’24), a Nursing major from South St. Paul, MN, has been especially involved as a lead student worker, running the garden during the summer months. Eldredge first became interested in the project after connecting with Niemi through the Native American Student Alliance (NASA) on campus.
Eldredge is involved in the planting, weeding and harvesting, and members of NASA further assist with the harvesting and drying of plants. To Eldredge, the garden has become a means of continuing her education on sacred medicines and agriculture. “Being a part of this project brings together my love of the outdoors with my appreciation of Indigenous culture,” she shared. “It is important to keep Indigenous culture alive and continue the education of younger generations.”
Now in its second harvest, Niemi and Eldredge share their excitement regarding the future of the garden, particularly in the opportunity to engage the greater community. Although last year’s harvest was smaller than anticipated due to a late harvest, Eldredge’s enthusiasm is undeniable. “Last year, we got a fantastic harvest,” she shared. “This year we will harvest a little earlier and plant more sweet grass.” Niemi shared the same optimism working through the learning curves of the garden: “The garden is a living entity that we can constantly build on.”
Minwendamoog aamoog mawadishiwewaad is just one of the many ways that The College of St. Scholastica honors, respects and celebrates the experiences of Indigenous people. Please join the College in recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, Oct. 9, as well as for the community feast in November to honor Native American Heritage Month. The events are free and open to the public.