By Heather Augustine, founder and coordinator of Mowita’nej Epijij (pronounced Mowi dawn edge epa gee edge)
The Mowita’nej Epijij (welcome to the gathering place) community garden is a space for Indigenous people in the territory we now call Maine to explore their interest in growing our traditional foods and medicines. The hope is to create a safe place to nurture interest in growing food and medicine that reduces barriers to healthy traditional food for the Wabanaki and the BIPOC (black, indigenous, and persons of color) community. The dream for the landscape is that it will be inviting to children, elders, and the ages in between to gather, share community, stories, and love for the outdoors. The space at Crystal Spring Farm is inviting for many reasons, just one of those is the vast trails and plants that live outside of the growing space. We grow crops such as Abenaki Calais Flynt corn, Algonquin Long Pie pumpkins, traditional tobacco, herbs, greens, and many more. This project is supported by and in community with the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation, Mawita’nej First Nation Youth Group, and many more.
The relationship between the Wabanaki Community Garden Project, Mowita’nej Epijij, and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust began three years ago. In the spring of that year, I reached out to BTLT hoping we were not too late for a plot at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden to grow food with the Mawitanej First Nation Youth Group. We were assigned Plot 11, a plot that would establish a reciprocal relationship between Wabanaki people, the soil, and the land trust.
Plot 11 was an experiment filled with love and joy! The next season we moved down to another plot, more experimentation and more joy. The relationship between myself, the first nations youth, and the land grew, as well as the relationship between myself and the land trust.
The pandemic hit and growing food became less of an experiment and more of a mission to meet the needs of the community experiencing food shortages as the grocery store shelves emptied and borders closed affecting traditional hunting practices.
In mid 2020, I joined the BTLT diversity equity and inclusion committee. My voice was honored, and my thoughts valued. The need for an intentional space for the Wabanaki community was evident. That fall, I asked for land, and BTLT, without question, supported this. The relationship has been nurtured organically over years. Conversations were not always easy, but we stood next to each other with love and hope.
May of 2021, we broke ground on an acre of growing space. Many local farmers donated seedlings, seeds, their time and support. The garden has been healing to the Wabanaki community. I lost my father, Raymond Augustine, an Indian Residential School Survivor, as the beans, potatoes, and tobacco were re-homed in the loving soil. I mourned and tended to the plants.
The project has been the start of something beautiful, meaningful, and real as we all wrestle with the painful past of colonization and the impacts it has on Wabanaki people today. The lessons of this project will ripple out into the pond we share together.
Relationships take time, trust takes time, and gardens heal.
“BTLT is so grateful to have Mowita’nej Epijij sharing the stewardship of Crystal Spring Farm. After too many generations of being kept away, the local Wabanaki community is returning to the land and we can’t think of a better way to have that land managed than through the ancient traditions and connections of our indigenous neighbors.”
~ Nikkilee (Lee) Cataldo, BTLT Associate Director