SpruceLab’s Earth Tending program addresses some of these issues. This paid green infrastructure training initiative is for unemployed and under-employed First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples living in the Greater Toronto Area. The program provides improved economic opportunities through education about natural systems, fosters connections between humans and more-than-humans, and improves participant’s sense of well-being and belonging. Often urban Indigenous populations report feelings of not belonging in cities due to lack of representation and connection to other Indigenous people, and especially to the land. The Earth Tending program offers an alternative to be connected to the land while building community capacity and improving overall health.

Although SpruceLab is a planning and landscape architecture consultancy, programs like Earth Tending are crucial ways that demonstrate reciprocity towards Indigenous communities. Land-based teachings are shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous  educators, professionals and organizations working in the field.  By focusing on nourishing relationships among and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, SpruceLab contributes to the healing and Reconciliation between humans and, by extension, with the land.

Another important question that was asked of panelists was how accessibility concerns were being considered. There are several ways that this has been addressed. As Sheila explained, one avenue for connecting people with various mobility needs was by using immersive, virtual technologies. Virtual experiences could be used to help Elders experience a landscape where positive health changes were tracked and reported as a result.

Green roofs provide another opportunity for people of various abilities to access green spaces, even in highly urban settings. The Indigenous Healing Garden on the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) green roof will be accessible by elevator and compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Noted by Sheila as a ‘meadow in the sky’, spaces like this are one way that everyone can take time to connect with the land, learn about First Nations Traditional Territories and Indigenous cultures, and find a place to take some time away from the concrete jungle and find respite in daily life.

Similarly, an upcoming project SpruceLab is involved with is a green roof at the Carrot Common. This community hub has an active green roof that needs a makeover to improve accessibility and access – one that will boost community connection, offer greater food growing opportunities, and get people’s hands working with the soil.

As designers, SpruceLab thinks to the future, seven generations ahead, while learning from the seven generations before us, to improve life for everyone that calls a space and place home, whether that is within four walls or not. Throw in opportunities for joy for those of us here today and we can say we are taking steps on a good path forward.

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Tiffany Adair