SFU Archaeology advances Indigenization with new Native Plant Garden

October 10, 2023
From left to right: Cheryl Matthews, research associate, FENV Sea, Land and Sky Initiative; Rudy Reimer (Yumks), professor, SFU Archaeology; Merrill Farmer, manager, SFU Archaeology; and Jessie Recalma, Coast Salish artist.

On September 21st, SFU’s Department of Archaeology unveiled their Native Plant Garden — an initiative in recognition of their 50th anniversary that aims to build a place of community and advance Indigenization on SFU’s Burnaby campus.

“After years of walking past the garden on the way to work and feeling uninspired by the invasive ivy covering the space, we approached facilities about taking ownership of the area to create a garden that reflects the places and spaces that many archaeologists undertake their work in,” says Merrill Farmer, manager of the Department of Archaeology.

Before planting began, faculty, staff and students volunteered their time over the course of three days to remove the invasive ivy that occupied the space for decades and researched and sought advice on which plants to include. Now, the garden is home to more than fifty native plant species that hold cultural significance to Coast Salish peoples — on whose unceded traditional territory SFU resides.

Throughout the garden, visitors will find information on each plant, including their Indigenous names, cultural significance and medicinal uses. The revived space also serves as a learning opportunity for health science, biology and archaeology students studying ethnobotany, the healing properties of plants and more. 

“Whether it’s through an opportunity for reflection or hands-on learning, we hope the space will be inspiring and motivational for SFU community members,” adds Farmer.

To complete the project and help create a place-based connection to the garden, the department commissioned an art piece by Jesse Recalma (Instagram: @saatlamarts), a Coast Salish artist and a member of the Qualicum First Nation, to serve as a focal point of the garden. The sculpture features a cormorant, which is seen as a portent of important archaeological sites, and two herring, a cultural keystone species.

“The artwork truly represents the foundation of archaeology; it is an artifact by definition. This material culture is a tangible object created for a purpose and left behind by a people. Thousands of years from now it will tell a story and that story is what draws so many to this discipline,” says Farmer.

Farmer explains that this artwork not only celebrates the department’s milestone anniversary but represents the evolution of how archaeology is practiced and taught, and the department’s commitment to reconciliation and advancing relationships with Indigenous nations. 

To celebrate the project’s completion, archaeology faculty, staff and students gathered as the artwork was revealed and installed in the garden following a barbecue and blanketing ceremony of Recalma, led by Rudy Reimer (Yumks), a professor in the department and member of the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation).

Volunteers work to remove ivy from garden.
Invasive ivy removed and planting of native plants begins.