Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A garden of culture for native women

Brightly coloured teepee adorns Villa Rosa project

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WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
From left, Brandy Andrews, daughter Isabella, elders Clarence and Barbara Nepinak and Victoria Dorie and son Caleb by the teepee in Villa Rosa�s garden.

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WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS From left, Brandy Andrews, daughter Isabella, elders Clarence and Barbara Nepinak and Victoria Dorie and son Caleb by the teepee in Villa Rosa�s garden.

When Brandy Andrews found out she was pregnant, she was in shock and afraid to share the news with her family.

"I was in zombie mode for about a week, and I didn't tell my parents," said Andrews, wrapping her arms around eight-month-old Isabella. "My parents had a feeling, but they found out on my sister's first birthday."

Growing up, Andrews admits she had her fair share of struggles. But the Grade 12 student refuses to make the same mistakes she saw at home.

"I never grew up with my mom, so I want to be there for her (Isabella)," said the single mother.

Andrews was one of the speakers at the opening ceremony of the Villa Rosa Outdoor Teaching Garden on Wednesday. The ceremony was packed with volunteers and mothers cradling their newborns.

'I never grew up with my mom, so I want to be there for her' -- single mother Brandy Andrews of her daughter, Isabella

The Villa Rosa Outdoor Teaching Garden is a three-year, quarter-million-dollar capital project where women can learn about aboriginal culture during their stay at the residence, located on Wolseley Avenue. The residence is funded by the province, the city, the Winnipeg Foundation, the Moffat Family Foundation, the True North Foundation and the Thomas Sill Foundation.

The garden will serve as a place to meet and engage in discussions about aboriginal culture and provide a sense of belonging.

The backyard consisted of nothing but sod before the project began.

Villa Rosa, founded more than a century ago by the Misericordia Sisters, incorporated as a charitable organization in 1967. It serves marginalized women in Manitoba during varying stages of pregnancy.

This year, it has seen 87 women come through its doors. More than 75 per cent of them are aboriginal. The majority of Villa Rosa residents are in their mid-to-late teens but range in age from as young as 11 into their mid-30s.

Last fall, the women had been learning about aboriginal culture at the Manitoba Museum, and their interest sprouted from there.

"It was cool learning about our culture, but we weren't allowed inside the teepee," said Andrews.

Instead, the women designed a teepee of their own they could sit in.

The teepee was painted in bright colours and decorated in baby's footprints along with words written in Ojibwa that welcomed people to come inside. "This is not just about raising funds, it's about raising hope for future generations," said Mindy Barsky-Veitch, Villa Rosa's director of development. "It's for women to connect with their culture."

Elders Clarence and Barbara Nepinak were present to bless the ceremony and the new teepee.

"It's like moving into a new home -- you bless it," said Clarence.

Another speaker at the grand opening was Victoria Dorie, who joined the non-profit organization a year ago.

Before Villa Rosa, Dorie was moving from house to house and didn't have a place to call home.

"I was hanging out with friends and drinking," said the Winnipeg resident. "I was out of control, I wasn't stable. If I kept it up, they would have taken my baby away."

Now, the mother of eight-month-old Caleb is planning to finish her Grade 12 and attend the University of Winnipeg to study criminology.

"It's hard taking care of my baby sometimes," said Dorie. "This program has helped me through school and with my parenting skills."

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 A6

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