Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If you are not already a neechie, you could be

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I needed to "neechify" my medicine wheel rock garden. Never heard of the word? No problem, because I just made it up.

It comes from the Ojibway word neechie, or neechi, -- which means friend and is also often used as slang for a First Nations person. For example, I am a neechie, and you are my neechie, too, if you buy me a coffee.

To "neechify it" is to make an item more to a neechie's liking.

Making the medicine wheel garden more visible would get more community people using it. After all, the point of making it was for people to have some respite and quiet contemplation.

So, how to neechify my medicine wheel rock garden?

I thought about it for a while and came up with a plan. The rock garden was beautiful the way it was, with all its traditional plants, but it needed some colour.

Anyone who's ever been to a pow wow knows that aboriginal people love bright colours. When some of those fancy dancers get going they look like neon fireworks exploding right on the dance grounds.

So I gathered up buckets of small river rocks and painted them with non-toxic paint in the colours of the four directions -- white, yellow, red and blue. I let them "cure" for a few days in the sun and then put in their specific directions in the medicine wheel garden.

It has made a big difference. If someone walks by they'll see the coloured stones -- yellow in the east, red in the south, blue in the west, and white in the north. Now it looks like a neechie made it.

As far as the plants go, the sage, sweetgrass and cedar -- each in their respective directions -- have been growing well.

The mystery seeds I thought were tobacco turned out to be tomatoes and hot peppers. I'm going to order some tobacco seeds for next season, but I'm still keeping my eyes peeled for them around town.

One reader told me about a local store that was selling tobacco plants but by the time I got around to it they were all sold. Traditional tobacco is a sacred and popular plant.

I figure I'll take the traditional route when it comes to working on the medicine wheel garden. I'll just take my time and have faith that everything will eventually fall into place.

I also got a nice surprise one morning. Someone planted a plant in the northeastern corner of the garden plot, just outside the medicine wheel.

A few days later, three other plantings of the same type cropped up in the remaining directions -- along with a note.

The plants were a gift from a fellow gardener named Katherine -- who left a note telling me the plants were alum root, and where originally from Four Mile Island on Reed Lake, near The Pas.

It seems the Cree up there would boil alum root flower stems and drink it as a tea to stop bleeding.

Thanks, Katherine -- you are a true neechie.

My veggie garden, meanwhile, has been growing well, too. It's sprouted dill, beets and tons of yellow beans. There have been enough beans already to give some to my uncle Kenny and his family.

I also picked a few beets early and pickled them, just in case some garden raiders show up again this year. They are delicious, and I can't wait to make another batch, and give some away.

Probably the greatest part of having a garden -- next to eating the veggies yourself -- is sharing the bounty with friends and family.

And it just goes to show that a little garden can feed a family or two with ease.

I was impressed with the crop of veggies coming in, since I used old seeds left over from last year. I just put them in a plastic container and tucked them away in a cool, dark place. So my veggie garden cost me next to nothing this year.

Happy gardening.


Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2012 A17

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