'The need for healing is so big that, what is next? We need a second site,' says Clarence Cachagee
In a wooded area beside some farmland west of Waterloo, Ont., is Crow Shield Lodge.
It's an Indigenous land-based education and healing space just outside New Hamburg. There's a white tent — the teaching lodge — that can seat about 20 people. There's a walled tent with a fire pit for gatherings. There's a sweat lodge.
As a child growing up in Chapleau Cree First Nation in northern Ontario, Cachagee's father called him Crow Shield "before I got my spirit name," he said.
"My dad's been gone over 25 years now, so I thought it would be nice if I could try to incorporate that name to honour my father and to honour our family," he said.
The lodge is a place for healing, for the community to gather and learn from each other, Cachagee said.
He sees the lodge as a way to give back because he says there's a great need for healing in the community. That includes local issues, like the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from in front of the Wilmot township offices, to potential burial sites being found at the sites of former residential schools and ongoing conflicts between local and federal governments.
Bringing lodge to Waterloo region
Cachagee was taken from his family in the Sixties Scoop, when an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed with white families. He lived with a New Order Mennonite family in Waterloo region, attended New Dundee Public School and Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School.
The lodge was originally in Guelph, but Cachagee wanted to move it into Waterloo region and began to look for a space about a year ago. That was when he connected with Jennifer Pfenning, an organic farmer and Wilmot township councillor.
She offered him land for free for the lodge. They looked initially near the Nith River, but knowing it floods each spring, chose a spot in a wooded area.
"How cool is it to come back to the township that you were raised in? And then to bring healing and then to bring education and then to bring land stewardship and then to bring an opportunity of reconciliation, like how beautiful is that?" Cachagee said.
There were briefly some issues with the township about whether the lodge was permitted under zoning bylaws, but staff were able to give the lodge the go-ahead.
Personal connection to location
Pfenning said about a year ago, she had begun to think about how she could make a difference when it comes to reconciliation with local Indigenous communities and the idea of offering land made sense to her.
"We view our space as farmers in a stewardship capacity, not as ownership," she said.
"As organic farmers that really underpins our philosophy of how we go about farming, that this land is ours only to use while we are here to tend, to serve and to steward and to protect."
The forest where the lodge is located is special to Pfenning. A mother of three boys, she admits she suffered from postpartum depression after they were born and the forest was a place she found healing.