‘A perfect place to begin knowledge sharing’

New giitigan, or community garden, on the shores of the St. Clair River restores native plants, celebrates Indigenous culture

Four plants sacred to the Anishinaabe—cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco—are among the native plantings returned to the shoreline of the St. Clair River in Port Huron, Michigan.

On Tuesday, friends and neighbors planted a selection of Indigenous vegetation in a new community garden—called giitigan in Anishinaabe—located at a resting point along the one-mile-long Blue Water River Walk.

With Indigenous artwork among the foliage, and interpretive panels of the history of the land nearby, the tranquil space will grow more than plants. It will serve as a place for community programming and learning, inviting guests to expand their understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture.

The giitigan “will be a perfect place to begin knowledge sharing,” says Sheri Faust, president of the Friends of the St. Clair River, which helped develop the garden.

The plants and flowers were selected with care and with guidance from Indigenous knowledge keepers and Elders, she adds.

The date of the community planting and giitigan dedication ceremony—Tuesday, June 21—was chosen to mark both the summer solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, whose border lies just 400 feet east, running through the center of the river.

As part of our commitment to habitat conservation, remediation, and sustainable communities, Enbridge provided a Fueling Futures grant of $2,500 to the Friends of the St. Clair River for the creation of this giitigan.

Earlier this spring, we provided a second Fueling Futures grant to the Friends—which has chapters both in Michigan and Ontario—this time in support of the Blue Water Sturgeon Festival. With attendance over 3,000 this year, the annual event helps restore the population of sturgeon, the largest fish in the Great Lakes.

Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right

The grant for the giitigan dedication ceremony supported the Indigenous storytelling and cultural components of the event, helping to cover fees for the drummer, traditional dancers, and Indigenous Elders and speakers.

After the ceremony, attendees sank their fingers into fresh dirt and planted the four sacred plants, as well as purple cone flower, bee balm, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan and smooth aster.

The native plantings complement a series of carvings standing in the garden, the Seven Grandfather Teachings, each featuring a different animal—eagle, beaver, wolf, raven, bison, turtle and bear. The solid oak sculptures were carved by Ojibwe artist Gareet Navee, of the Walpole Island First Nation, and unveiled in 2021.

Significantly, the giitigan dedication ceremony is not a “one-and-done” event, Faust says. It marks an important step in rehabilitating the land, damaged by the industrial abuses of a railyard that stood on the place for more than 100 years.

It also marks an important step in acknowledging the history and culture of the traditional Indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years.

The garden, with its yellow and purple blossoms, invites passers-by on the Blue Water River Walk to rest under the pergola, behold the native plantings and carvings, and reflect on the culture and teachings of the region’s ancestors.

“Native Americans, the Indigenous people, are the first caretakers of the land,” Faust says. “They are the ultimate stewards. We have so much to learn.”

(TOP PHOTO: Friends of the St. Clair River at the giitigan, or community garden, in Port Huron, MI, where native plantings now complement a series of carvings created by Ojibwe artist Gareet Navee of the Walpole Island First Nation.)