October 4 marked a historical day for Brock’s Indigenous community and the university in general. The Healing Garden was officially opened, the Glenridge traffic roundabout was renamed to honour an iconic Indigenous woman, and a celebration was held in order to announce the grand opening of Brock’s Aboriginal Student Services office’s’ new location.
The construction of the Healing Garden took place over the summer months and its official opening ceremony took place on Oct. 4 but the plan for the garden started much earlier.
Last year, Brock Chancellor Shirley Cheechoo planted a symbolic white pine tree, in the place that is currently the centre of the Healing Garden, to highlight the importance of Indigenous culture through the literal roots of Native background.
This new space on campus, which is situated on the north side of the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex and is an Aboriginal Student Organization initiative, is meant to be a peaceful and symbolic environment on campus for all.
Aboriginal Students Organization president, Ryan Wijesirigunawardena, stated that the Healing Garden was created at Brock “to bring all people of all different colours into the same circle. It’s an interactive place to be used by everyone, allowing us to communicate with self, with spirit and with nature.”
The Healing Garden is intended to be a peaceful environment for the community that honours and recognizes the Indigenous culture and community at Brock. Typically, healing gardens are places that are surrounded by nature that offer a space of solitude and inspiration.
Along with the unveiling of Brock’s Healing Garden, another grand change was made for the Indigenous community at Brock. The Glenridge traffic roundabout that is located near one of the university’s entrances was renamed to Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Circle in honour of a Metis woman who has close ties to Brock University and the Canadian history of Indigenous people.
Suzanna Rochon-Burnett, who passed away in early 2006, was a business woman and national icon for her work and advocacy on many causes revolving around Indigenous education, arts and businesses. She was a Metis broadcaster, artist and journalist who was the first aboriginal person in Canada to own and operate a private commercial radio station. That station was Ontario’s SPIRIT 91.7 established in Niagara’s own, Welland.
Rochon-Burnett did many noteworthy deeds throughout her life. She was among the first to support Ontario Native artists, she established a special policy at TVOntario for Aboriginal programming and she set up a Native scholarship at Brock that has helped 18 Indigenous students, to date, attend university when they otherwise may not have had the opportunity to. At Brock, Rochon-Burnett also served as a Board of Trustee member for two terms.
In 2002, Rochon-Burnett was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was awarded the Order of Ontario. That same year, she also received an Honorary Doctorate from Brock in recognition of her contributions to Canadian cultural life. In 2006, she was added into the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business’s Hall of Fame.
At the unravelling ceremony of the name-change for the traffic roundabout, Rochon-Burnett’s only child, Michelle-Elise Burnett, was present to honour her mother’s memory as well as her many achievements. Rochon-Burnett’s daughter continued her mother’s involvement with Brock and now sits on the Board of Trustees as well.
“She believed in our youth. Today, many Indigenous students will graduate from Brock with the aid of her scholarship, and will leave a positive imprint in our community’s fibres” said Burnett, adding that “She asked that we continue her dream of educating our Indigenous youth, that we allow them their dignity and give them the tools and skills to make a difference in the world.”
In addition to Brock’s new Healing Garden and freshly renamed street sign, Oct. 4 also marked the official opening of the new location for the Aboriginal Student Services office, which is now located in the northeast corner of Market Hall.
With three events that occurred on Oct. 4 promoting Indigenous culture, awareness, history and spirituality, this was indeed a big day for Brock.