A University of Wisconsin River Falls professor and seven of her students have given back after learning about the former residential school in Portage la Prairie.
National Indigenous Residential School Museum executive director Lorraine Daniels received a call from Kirsten Lindbloom, who originally hails from Portage la Prairie and now teaches at the UWRF, and says the team south of the border is giving the Museum a community garden.
"We have the group from University of Wisconsin River Falls planting seeds right now," says Daniels. "They've got the raised garden beds ready. They've put in all the soil already, and now they're planting the vegetables. They'll have tomatoes, peas, onions, carrots, and more. There are six different types of vegetables they'll be planting in the front bed that you see full of flowers; orange marigolds."
Daniels says they're erecting a sign, as well as signs for each garden, to identify the vegetables. She says all signs will be written in Ojibwa and English.
"The reason why this is happening is because I spoke to Kirsten about a year ago, and her grandfather was a former principal here," continues Daniels. "She found out how the residential schools had impacted the survivors, and now she wants to give back. It's working toward reconciliation. This is reconciliation in action -- giving back to the community. We're so blessed to have them here; Kirsten and her students."
She notes Lindbloom is planning on coming back again next year for another project.
"They're also working on other projects in the Museum, hoping to put some kind of a database together for us," adds Daniels. "They'll work on it as a part of their university studies throughout the year. They'll come back, and gift us with a monitor and with a database."
Professor Lindbloom says she grew up in Portage, and has been visiting home about once a year. She says her trip in 2022 saw her discover her grandfather was the principal at the Indian Residential School in 1958.
"We are wanting to leave something behind, and to participate in the reconciliation work," continues Lindbloom. "So, I have seven students that traveled with me, all from different majors. And so we're planting tomatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and onions. The harvest will be shared with the older folks here at Long Plain First Nation. They'll gain the harvest. So, it's exciting for us to be able to do this for them."
Lindbloom explains it exceeded her expectations when she met with the First Nation community.
"The community has welcomed us with open arms," adds Lindbloom. "They've shared food, stories, and they have shared their language. It's been an amazing time of being gifted, and I don't want these seven kids to be the only ones to get this experience. The executive director and I will work at this again. They're already talking about what we can build for them next year."
Former Long Plain First Nation chief Dennis Meeches is currently president and chairperson of the Museum, and says the students and professor are special visitors.
"It's a real blessing, truly, and with the residential school museum, I think it's gaining a lot of recognition," notes Meeches. "As you can see, we have international visitors from all over the world coming here, and visiting on a fairly regular basis, I would imagine now, since we were declared a National Historic site. It's good that we're getting this type of outreach work where they're coming, they want to learn more, and they want to learn about the residential school history here in Canada."
He says, despite the fact the history hasn't been the best history Canada can share with the world, it's nevertheless important they share that story.
"There is a lot of work to do here, and there are bits and pieces of work that will be continued through the years," says Meeches. "We definitely hope to raise over $20 million in the coming years to build an administration building to expand our exhibits, memorial work, heritage work, and residential school library. So, there's a lot to do."