For the Sun Times
All Doreen Williams-Freeman was looking for was some direction.
What she found was a hobby that eventually led to the Galt Museum and Archives’ newest official feature.
While living in Montana several years ago, she had been gaining an interest in landscaping but wasn’t sure on what exactly to focus her life. And whenever Williams-Freeman feels unsure about anything, she prays.
She had been building gardens and then asked in prayer for a sign on what type to construct.
“I went to a powwow in Missoula and the first place I went to was the vendors,” says Williams-Freeman, who herself sells various crafts during such events. “The very first thing I see was a book on medicine wheel gardening and I thought, ‘Oh my, that’s what I need to do.’
“I rushed home after the powwow and the next day went and picked out my rocks and then built the first medicine wheel garden in Coram, Mont. When I moved back (to Alberta) in 2006, I thought a garden would be such a nice representation for natives.”
A medicine wheel garden is a time-honoured place of ceremony, used by First Nations people for as long as 5,500 years. Rocks, stones and plants are formed in a circle where sacred ceremonies of celebration, healing and tranquility are performed.
The circles were said to contain the collective energy of those who used them. The word “medicine” was used in reference to coming back into balance and harmony with the various cycles of life and not in the context it is often used today.
Each garden is broken into four quadrants.
“Four was a very significant number for our forefathers,” says Williams-Freeman, who is behind the entire project. “The four seasons, the four colours of man, the four directions, the four elements. The medicine wheel signifies four different things and there is a concept everyone is using these days, which entails physical, mental, emotional and intellectual.
“It is a place where the natives can make an offering to the Creator. In return for your prayer, you receive a blessing.”
When Williams-Freeman decided to push for a medicine wheel garden in Alberta, she did so with several intentions. For one, she wanted to see something that represented all First Nations people, something everyone can be proud of.
But what she really wanted to accomplish with this garden was a uniting of sorts for native and urban culture.
“We just want everyone to know it’s there and it’s for everybody’s use,” she says. “It’s kind of a way to bridge the gap between natives and non-natives. It’s kind of like a community garden, where everyone can go donate plants or pull weeds or just help maintain it.”
Needing land before she could build, she approached various places around southern Alberta. Lethbridge — and more notably, the Galt — showed great interest from the outset and, even though it has taken three years, the garden is ready to be unveiled.
On June 21, from 11 a.m.–1 p.m., the Galt Museum, in partnership with the Lethbridge Aboriginal Council and Williams-Freeman, invites the public to celebrate National Aboriginal Day.
The festivities will include the official grand opening and blessing ceremony for Lethbridge’s medicine wheel garden. A hamburger barbecue will follow the short blessing and the Galt will be offering free admission to the public all day, as the ceremony also coincides with their current Blackfoot Shirts exhibit.
The garden sits on the coulee edge, well visible from anywhere in the Galt’s viewing gallery.