top of page

Small Changes and Big

Into the garden by Ella 130523.jpg

Small Changes, and Big

Elder Catherine often reminds me that “change is the only constant,” and nowhere is this truer than in a garden. By human design or no, the urban microsystem of plants and animals that is Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan, and the community that both includes and surrounds it, is—moment by moment—different.

We celebrated Mother’s Day in the St. Matt’s Sanctuary on May 14 th , recognizing the many shades of joy and sadness that this day might hold. Outside the western door of the Narthex, a Red Dress and small
hearts hanging from the branches of the Yew Tree moved in the wind. Small shoes and boots sat jumbled among the cedars and winter creeper beneath the St. Matt’s sign repurposed for our National Healing Forest project.

Sometime that afternoon, 2 long stemmed roses were laid here, where missing and murdered Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit women and girls as well as the lost children of the residential school era are remembered and honoured. I found the roses wilted early the next morning, as I watered new plantings of native understory plants and the exposed roots of our older-than-I-or-you tree. Likely planted when the church was first built,
this Yew is already living into its Anglo-Celtic folk name as the resurrection tree, with a new tree well started from the original root. Today we were to bring a younger tree to join it.

Greenery in the Noojimo'iwewin Garden

Ella & Sweetgrass 130523.jpg

Above: Sweetgrass.

Top: Columbine

A close look at the photo will show you not only the dying roses down front but the burgeoning greenery behind the sign, neither present last Sunday morning. For weeks, members of the IPSG, Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Crew, and St. Matt’s Property Committee were joined by neighbours, family,
and friends to save the more than 40-year-old Yew Tree grown into a concrete container in front of MPP Jill Andrew’s office. With plans to update the streetscape, the BIA brought in two workers (and a truck)
to finish transplanting the Tree Monday morning.

The mechanical whirr of the reciprocating pruning saw, the truck revving, and the agonizing sound of roots finally pulling free were difficult to hear. But settling the Tree in its new home with others of its kind and swaddling damaged roots in compost and earth left us hopeful. As is protocol, we placed Tobacco down, and Prayers up as we worked, ending with water. Niibi bimaadiziwin. Water is life, and we will do what we can to preserve this life.

Every year since the pandemic began and Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan was first planted, Elder Catherine and I have performed a Seagull Ceremony at sunrise, on the sand at the lake’s edge. Seagulls teach us about change and adaptability, as they live on water and land as well as in the air. I had thought of Seagull’s Teachings on Mother’s Day, and watched as gulls flew inland before heading out to the garden Monday morning.

May the small changes we hope for—the recovery of a transplanted tree, for instance—come to pass. But so too may the big changes we need, all those slow-to-be-answered Calls to Action on missing and murdered Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit women and girls or truth and reconciliation as “we repair the damaged relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada” (National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, “Introduction,” Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action, 2015).

Reflection by Robin Buyers, Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Co-Lead, 2023. Photo by fellow Co-Lead, Ella Lightstone. Deep thanks to the 26 people (or more) who put in over 100, mainly volunteer, hours to save a Tree considered Sacred by the Anglo-Celtic peoples with whom the United Church finds its roots. May our commitment to life continue in our solidarity with All Our Relations.

Ba’wezhiganag? Luskinikn? Palauga?: Delicious!

By Robin Buyers

Whether named in Anishinaabemowin, Mi’kmaq, Inuktituk, or any of the languages indigenous to Turtle Island, what is known in English as “Bannock” is a staple in Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit communities
from coast, to coast, to coast. In one of my now-lost languages, Gaelic, the word is “bannach,” English taking the Gaelic root.
So was Bannock introduced to First Nations communities by Scottish fur traders? No, and yes.

Unleavened breads were common long before Europeans arrived, using flours crafted from cama, cattail, or bracken fern rhizomes or, on the west coast, black tree lichen. Mixed with water and sometimes fat, these breads were baked in a variety of ways, including—as many campers know—by wrapping the dough around a green stick and carefully toasting it over the coals of a wood fire.

As maize/corn was traded along north-south routes among the agricultural communities of Turtle Island, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and other Nations made corn breads, often cooked on hot, flat stones.

But once Europeans arrived, wheat flour entered trade routes old and new, and soon began to replace more traditional ingredients.

Members of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group, friends, neighbours, and summer staff got a lesson in contemporary versions of Bannock this June. For our June 14 th Ode’min Giizas/Strawberry Moon
Sacred Fire and Ceremony, we feasted on Anishinaabe Chef Charles Catchpole’s superb Baked Bannock.

Some then went on to volunteer in the Sagatay kitchen on the 18 th , shaping and deep frying 400+ Bannocks for the Na-Me-Res Traditional Pow Wow at Fort York.
Bannock is a standard menu item for today’s Pow Wows, often as the base for “Indian Tacos” such as we made, with chile, tomatoes, lettuce, and other toppings.


Indigenous-owned catering companies such as Chef Catchpole’s, or popular restaurants such as Tea and Bannock in Leslieville feature their own versions, no two the same.

Jacob and Robin in the Na-Me-Res Kitchen.jpg

Jacob and Robin cook Bannock in the Na-Me-Res kitchen. Photo by Betsy Anderson

Wheat flour slipped quietly into First Nations foodways, sadly to become part of British colonial domination, first as a trade good, then as a ration (along with lard, sugar, and eggs) supplied by government agents to “Indian Reservations.” Once removed from their Land, Nations were removed from their traditional sources of food, and dependence on wheat-and-lard-based Bannock was  the alternative to starvation.


Yet as First Nations experience a cultural renaissance, Bannock remains celebrated, whether as PowWow-style Fry Bread or the creations of Chefs returning to the Breads of their more distant Ancestors. We are grateful to be able to share in the deliciousness, and, we hope, decolonization.

For more information on the history of Bannock, see The Canadian Encyclopedia.


For more on Chef Catchpole and his products and services, see CharGer Foods at Mnopgwad.


The Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group is grateful for a Park People Sparking Change grant for funding the Ode’min Giizas Celebration, and to Nancy Debassige for inviting us to cook for the Na-Me-Res PowWow.

Every Child Matters

Banner after painting June 2021.jpg

215 undocumented graves in what is now British Columbia—children’s graves, found next to Kamloops Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc territory. A sign of the times, of a reckoning with the history of this place we call home, a history of colonial and continuing genocide masquerading as good intentions.


What will manifest? In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on churches “to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families and communities were necessary.”  Ten percent of residential schools were run by the United Church. The General Council apologized for our role in 1986.


But, while necessary, apologies are not enough, educating settlers and newcomers in church on Sundays is not enough. In 1988, the All Native Circle Conference acknowledged their Church’s apology, but hoped and prayed that “the Apology is not symbolic, but that these are the words of action and sincerity.”


At such a time as this, we first open our hearts until they break.


In a time of reckoning with generations of violence in which our church was complicit, will it be possible to manifest our good intentions in good action? We can begin by following the Indigenous Ministries and Justice lead, who ask “all of the church to continue in this time of mourning and of support for each other as we grieve this loss, and others that we do not yet know about. “

In response, we call upon you to join the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group in mourning by making the losses to Indigenous families and communities visible within the St. Clair West community. Led by the example of Tamara Bell, artist and 

daughter of a residential school survivor, we invite you to gather one or more pairs of children’s shoes and bring them as you are able to St. Matt’s.






Lay the shoes in Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan under our streetside sign, with the intention to honour the victims and survivors of residential schools and show respect for Indigenous people, their spirituality, and the Land we share. Take up some of the soil damaged by the clearing of the land and construction of settler homes as Indigenous people were displaced. Partially bury the shoes among the others, remembering all of the lost children, past and present.

Then wait for Indigenous Elders and leaders from within the United Church and without to call us from acts of mourning to acts of justice. Be ready. For we must find our way through our unsettling history to right relations, before we can even speak of reconciliation.


Starting the Every Child Matters Memoria

By Robin Buyers, with gratitude to Elder-in-Residence Peduhbun Migizi Kwe/Catherine Brooks for her reflections

Service Berries:

by Robin Buyers

July 2020

On Wednesday morning, The Stop’s Wychwood Open Door Volunteer Program Assistant Eveen
Mohammad came round to the Right Relations Garden, inquiring about ingredients for an ice tea. We
began with mint, then daylily, then serviceberries: a first harvest shared with our Community Hub

The serviceberry bushes were already fruiting when the IPSG Garden Crew transplanted them in early
June, gradually ripening over the last month, at first only a taste to share among the gardeners and
curious passersby, now handfuls at a time in this July heat. Deep purple and slightly larger than a wild
blueberry, these are one of the first fruits of summer where what remains of the Carolinian ecosystem
meets mixed forest.

Amelanchier canadensis is a Carolinian forest understory species. As our three establish themselves in
the Right Relations Garden, they will become a hedge at the south end,


The portrait of Elder Mary Lou Smoke, together with her husband Dan, is one of 28 honouring Elders
painted by Tannis Nielsen and young Indigenous artists and community members along the Lower
Simcoe Street underpass.


Dan & Mary Lou Smoke from Simcoe Mural 2
Service Berries 210620.jpg

blooming early next spring, one of the first sources of nectar for pollinators. When Europeans arrived, settlers mistook these blossoms for those of a European relative, Amelanchier ovalis, and so they called them by the same name, sardisberry. But to the Anishinaabe people native to this place, they are ozigwaakomin.


Elder Mary Lou Smoke, Anishinaabekwe, advised us as we built the Garden that “acknowledging the plants by their Indigenous names would be educational as well as respectful.”

The Elders who have gifted their voices to the online Ojibwe People’s Dictionary can help us learn the proper pronunciation in this International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Ozigwaakomin. Boozhoo
 “Greetings serviceberry,” since “serviceberry” is the most common name for
this species in our area now. And perhaps apt for a church built as Methodist, as one of the stories about
serviceberry is that it bloomed at the time the circuit riders would once more find their way to European
settlements to conduct services that had had to wait until the thaw.

Yes, the St. Matt’s of 2020 cares about our weekly worship services, even when we must meet online.
But this week’s gifting of mint, daylily, and serviceberries to refresh others means that we have yet another small way to turn our worship into witness, to be a congregation that serves.

Water is Life

by Robin Buyers

Elders say that the First Teaching is Gratitude for Life. When Elder Jimmy Dick holds a Sunrise Ceremony, he shares this Teaching, and counsels greeting each day with a drink of water. Kairos Blanket Exercise facilitator, trainer, and Grandmother, Mim Harder agrees, saying that we might pause even to acknowledge the Water that is part of our morning cup of coffee or tea.


Gardeners come to understand that Water is Life in the tending of what has been planted. July began hot and dry, 10 days without a drop of rain. Robin and Michael Buyers, Nelly Kimunguyi, and Betsy Anderson worked out a schedule for ensuring that the gardens got the water they needed every morning, before the sun hit the leaves.


One morning, Lorraine Cowley came by to commiserate about the time and effort it takes to water at St. Matt’s, given the placement of the outdoor taps in our aging building. It seems the Cowley family had taken on garden care in the past, and discovered that the tap in the east narthex window well required considerable athleticism, even for the tall and long-limbed, to use. After one attempt, we’d settled on using only the tap under the Rushton Road stairs, still not easy to reach, but doable.


And then the rain came. First a Wednesday storm that tested the trellising of our tomatoes and beans. Then a full day Saturday of the gentle rain that allows our Relations, the Plants, to drink deep and thrive. Many of us in the congregation were able to taste and see the lushness of the gardens when we met at a distance last Sunday afternoon to wish Lauren and Ruby well on her parental leave.

By this week, the serviceberries were juicier, the vines of beans and squash longer, the tomatoes taller. Once the sun came out, we were back to daily watering, but with the task made

Water is Life Shawna Brooks.jpg


easier by our beloved solver-of-all-problems-with-the-church-building, John Shipman. There’s now a tap at the top of the west narthex window well. We are so grateful.


Catherine Brooks closed our Summer Solstice Circle to bless the Right Relations Garden with the Anishinaabe Water Song, a song Elder Mary Lou Smoke says people learn so fast its as if they’ve known it all their lives:


Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya do ya

Wichita do ya do ya heh


Wacha tonaya hey ya hey ya

Wacha tonaya hey ya hey


The sound of Water flowing, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, that Life that gave us birth, lives in our bodies, and quenches the thirst for Life of All Our Relations, all living things.


Anishinaabe Language text from

Art by Shawna Brooks

bottom of page