Forests have a healing, spiritual, calming, and nurturing effect on people. The National Healing Forests Initiative is an invitation to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, institutions, and individuals to create green spaces throughout Canada to honour residential school victims, survivors, and their families, as well as murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and children who have been or were removed from their families (including during the Sixties Scoop).
The goal is for communities and individuals to work together to create a Healing Forest, whether within urban parks or in rural settings. It might include outdoor gathering spaces, walking trails, and plots dedicated to growing sacred plants and trees. Visiting Elders might present stories, and survivors and their families share their experiences. Each community decides for themselves what their Healing Forest looks like and how it will function. The only proviso is that the Healing Forest is created and used in the spirit of reconciliation, healing, shared understanding and respect.
Indigenous or non-Indigenous communities can develop their own Healing Forest ideas and present them to community councils for deeper discussion. Minimal infrastructure is needed – an existing green space could be identified and dedicated as part of the initiative. A Healing Forest space could be developed on public, private, or commercial lands.
Resources for the Healing Forest can come from existing community, provincial, or federal programs. The National Healing Forests Initiative does not provide funding, but will provide community organizers with an electronic file that can be used to create and install a Healing Forest plaque.
How is a Healing Forest developed?
Meet the Team
In 2015, Patricia Stirbys and Peter Croal were on a healing walk in Ottawa, which coincided with the release of the Residential School Truth and Reconciliation report. Following that walk, they agreed to work together to develop the concept of a forested healing space. Today, they are spreading the seeds of the Healing Forest idea throughout the country.
Peter and Patricia regularly share the idea of Healing Forests with as many people across Canada as possible. They are not managing local Healing Forest efforts. Instead, they simply share the idea so communities can decide for themselves how to establish a local Healing Forest. They hope that communities create a rich and unique tableau of approaches to healing, using a forest or green space as a foundation.
The National Healing Forests Initiative is a grassroots, community-developed, community-led and community-managed process. All that Peter and Patricia request is that each Healing Forest be developed in a respectful and thoughtful way, with the involvement of local Indigenous people and groups. They also ask that news about their Healing Forest be shared so the information can be included on the National Healing Forests website.
The National Healing Forests Initiative has collaborated with many community groups and individuals, including the David Suzuki Foundation and Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
In 2022, the David Suzuki Foundation partnered with NHFI to support 16 community groups that are aiming to establish local Healing Forests.
In 2023, the David Suzuki Foundation recruited another 33 community groups and is running a series of networking workshops to help them on their Healing Forest journeys.