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'We are still people of the land': Oneida unveils Indigenous gardens for Earth Week

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It was a special day at the Oneida Nation of the Thames.

On Tuesday, Chief Todd Cornelius was joined by council and volunteers to officially unveil the new Indigenous Community Gardens. The event was the highlight of a series of activities in the community to mark Earth Week.

“Earth Week is important because it reminds us to take care of our environment. We want to pass on a healthy planet to our children and our grandchildren,” said Cornelius to the group assembled at Turtle Garden, one of the three new Indigenous gardens.

In addition to the turtle, a garden in the shape of a bear claw and a garden resembling a wolf’s eyes were unveiled.

They represent the Bear, Wolf and Turtle clans, which are part of the community’s culture, according to Cornelius.

“We’re standing on Turtle Garden, which was newly built for our people, in regards to we are still Haudenosaunee. We are still people of the land, we’re still connected to the land,” he said.

Earth Week activities included more than 100 volunteers who spread throughout the community working on cleanup and beautification projects.

The bear claw, the turtle and wolf’s eyes Indigenous gardens are seen at Oneida Nation of the Thames on April 24, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

“We have been going to community members’ homes to help with their cleanup,” said Jenelle Cornelius, environmental consultation coordinator. “Eighty per cent of the list were the elders in our community and we just wanted to help them out.”

Also taking part in the community stewardship initiative were local school children, along with children from the London District Catholic School Board.

Imagine Build, a fundraising organization that builds homes for families, was also involved, while TLC Landscaping helped design the gardens.

Brett Phillips, a client care manager with TLC, said he felt “immense gratitude” to be able to take part.

“It’s great as a landscape designer in seeing a plan and project come to fruition, and then hopefully being able to see it in the years to come as it matures, and seeing everyone in the community come together,” said Phillips. 

The bear claw, the turtle and wolf’s eyes Indigenous gardens are seen at Oneida Nation of the Thames on April 24, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

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