Last January, RRC Indigenous Wellness Advisor Donna Glover had an idea. She saw that the College had a traditional medicine garden, but they were not growing tobacco. Glover took it upon herself to change that.
Tobacco is one of the four sacred medicines in Indigenous culture and Glover felt that it was important for the College to create a relationship with the medicine themselves. “Anyone can go to the gas station and buy tobacco, but we wanted a special connection,” she says.
As a Wellness Advisor, Glover works with students as a mentor of Indigenous cultures and spirituality. She teaches skills such as teepee setup, beadwork, drum making, medicine picking and preparing, and uses land-based learning to teach. She supports the College’s Elders-in-Residence with teachings and ceremonies like sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies. She also provides extra circular activities and wellness opportunities for students like Indigenous horticultural club, mindful meditation, floor hockey, and more. In an Indigenous worldview, the mind, body, spirit and heart work together, and Glover hopes that these experiences provided at College will contribute to a sense of wholeness to complement students’ academic journey.
RRC is dedicated to embedding these Indigenous ways of learning and being to advance Indigenous achievement. When it comes to spiritual and cultural practices, they make sure that necessary elements (such as tobacco) are provided for students.
Glover says that she wanted a way for the college to be self-sufficient when it comes to tobacco. She knew that the College is committed to sustainability and thought that this project could help with that goal.
“When you have to take care of and respect the tobacco, you gain a new relationship [with it],” says Glover.
In April, Glover took over a small plot of land on Red River College’s Notre Dame Campus. She worked with RRC’s green space management instructors to plant tobacco seeds, and soon tobacco plants began to spring up. Over the summer, the Indigenous Support staff helped water and care for the plants. Glover says that she used no pesticides or fertilizer, only water and sunlight.
There were so many tobacco plants that they gave many away at the Summer Solstice to staff, students, and community members, to encourage others create that spiritual relationship and to think of tobacco in a more natural and obtainable way. They used the Solstice event as an opportunity to bless the plants and set an intention.
She feels that growing tobacco has helped students to reconnect with the spiritual meaning of tobacco, rather than thinking of it just a product one can buy. “We as Indigenous [peoples] have our own reconciliation to do, why not start with tobacco,” she says.
It was a very special moment for Glover, who had spent almost a year on this initiative, when she was able to honour pipe carriers at the Winter Solstice Pipe Ceremony and Feast with homegrown tobacco for the first time.