For the youngest students of Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society and school, located on the Blood Reserve, there are lessons to be learned beyond the walls of the classroom.
William Singer III, founder of Naapi garden and Katoyiss Seedbank, believes that by teaching the youngest members of the community the importance of traditional horticulture it will lead to an increased understanding in future generations. Above all, he says it’s about leaving something for kids.
While Singer says the older students are often harder to engage, the three- to five-year-olds greet the lessons in plants and environmental stewardship with eagerness.
“To work with them has been really positive and it shows that they have enthusiasm for the knowledge that is being taught to them because it's something that you cannot find anywhere, you won’t find it in a book.”
Singer’s lessons show his students the wide variety of ways the plants they grow can be used. Berries as paint and dye, licorice root as a toothbrush, seeds combined with other ingredients to make pemmican. “Nothing goes to waste,” he says. Naapi’s Garden works to grow plants that traditionally played an important role in the lives of Indigenous people. From sweetgrass to licorice root, wild onions, and many others, the plants are used for both nourishment and their medicinal properties, something Singer says is vital to the health of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“The real culture, the true culture, which is land based, you cannot be anything without the land,” Singer explains, saying that true Indigenous culture goes beyond powwows and bannock. In addition to teaching the children about the technology of the plants they grow and use, he also explores the idea of decolonizing diet and the impact moving away from the traditional foods has had on health.
For Singer, his work of horticultural teaching and environmental stewardship is more than just spreading information, it is his life’s work, his calling. “This is this is my job, I've devoted myself to it and so with that there's a lot of responsibilities that come up,” he shares, explaining that he hopes to make Naapi’s Garden a place where people can visit, camp, and connect with the land in a healing way. It is all part of his hope to bring people back to health through reclaiming the land. Working with organizations such as Indigenous Tourism of Alberta, Parks Canada, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Old Man Watershed Council, the future for Naapi’s Garden and Katoyiss Seedbank is rich with opportunity. As William Singer III plants the seeds of traditional knowing in the leaders of tomorrow, his work today has given him a sense of healing that he is sure to bring to his community.
Theodora Macleod, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald