We are honored to begin our new BIPOC Voices series with an essay by Mihku Paul, a Community Activity Coordinator for Gedakina, Inc.., a multi-generational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American youth and families from across New England. This series will feature voices that speak to the intersectionality of climate and racial justice.
Mihku Paul is a Maliseet writer, gardener and visual artist who grew up along the Penobscot River. Her family comes from Kingsclear First Nations, N.B., Canada. Mihku has an urban homestead in the Stroudwater neighborhood of Portland, ME where she gardens and practices permaculture principles.
Right now, in the state of Maine, people are hungry. One in eight people are struggling with hunger and more than 47,000 of them are children. This is a particular concern. Research shows that hunger can prevent students from making the most of a formal education and children who experience hunger are more likely to have problems with memory and concentration because they do not have the energy to carry out these functions. Hunger can cause depression, anxiety and withdrawal which can impair the ability to learn.
The coronavirus pandemic has deepened these issues all across the country, as people struggle with lack of work, lost income and having to choose between paying rent or buying food.
Local food banks and new food security organizations are working to meet that challenge. One such partnership is Maine Land Share, a project of Land in Common. This project matches food security organizers, farmers and gardeners with landowners willing to provide growing space for Maine communities.
A budding example of this partnership is the Medicine Wheel Garden at ReVision Energy’s South Portland office. Heather Foran of the Resilience Hub (Portland region) matched my organization, Gedakina, Inc., with ReVision on a garden project to supply produce to Indigenous families across Maine.
BIPOC communities are often disproportionately impacted by economic downturns, chronic diseases and climate change. ReVision is doing its part, supporting Gedakina’s efforts to increase food security for some of Maine’s most vulnerable populations.
The Medicine Wheel Garden is an excellent example of what Indigenous scholar Lisa Brooks describes as “the reciprocity principle.” When we take only what we need, and are mindful of our duty to care for the land, that is the good walk. When we share with one another, regardless of cultural differences, to help all members of the human family we are practicing the reciprocity principle. Maine Land Share Project, The Resilience Hub, ReVision Energy and Gedakina are now part of that practice.
The garden is circular because circles have strong cultural connotations for Indigenous people. Circles connect everyone, all can see one another and participate equally in conversations. There is no hierarchy. No one is marginalized. The number four is considered sacred in many Indigenous cultures. The ReVision garden is divided into four quadrants for this reason. And the gate faces east, toward the first light, for the Dawnland tribes.
I look forward to deepening our cooperative relationship and helping to feed hungry people with the bounty from this new garden. Now, in the twenty-first century, and in Maine’s bicentennial year, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are working together to help feed people.
Gedakina hopes to remain at the ReVision site for several seasons. As the soil improves and mellows, we’ll see greater yields. The Medicine Wheel Garden will become a stunning visual example of gardening for positive change enjoyed from above by plane passengers at the Portland Jetport.
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