Our Heart Gardens

by Shannon McArthur

Life isn’t what you plan and it isn’t what you think… OK, maybe yours is, but mine isn’t! The things I decide to do quite often are the lessons I learn from while Spirit is setting up the thing that I’m meant to do. (She has a lot of weaving to do!) My best advice is to not get too attached to your plans, but to give them all you’ve got – because you never know!

After a marathon 3 days of listening and relating and digging deep… Well no, actually, the piece I’m going to share with you was written on the evening of the first day, after the celebration… and the results of the next two days are yet to be realized, but you now get the drift of what I’ve been doing!

The CommUnity Innovation Lab at the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) was an excellent meeting of minds – the communities of the people who came will benefit greatly from their experience. We were exposed to many innovative ideas and processes that will help us make thoughtful far-reaching changes happen easier and faster.

I attended the Lab because of an illusive idea that came together because of an e-course by Chief Phil Lane Jr. through the Shift Network called Indigenous Wisdom for Compassionate Living and Unified Action. I’ve always been drawn to the First Nations culture and I share their respect for the Earth and Her gifts. Helping others to receive Her gifts more easily and for Her to be healthy so She can continue giving is why my heart beats! Trying to find that way has pulled me and pushed me and the lessons have sharpened me and helped me refine the idea that has come clearer – and so I put it out to you here. (I feel like I’m coming out of the closet! Please be gentle!)  This is what I posted on the private notice board for participants’ Stories.


A Proposal by Shannon McArthur to CIL, Kamloops – February 3, 2015

A question was asked by one of our Native Elders of the panel assembled to talk about ways to Integrate and Celebrate Western and First Nation’s Values and Successes. He quoted another Elder from a time long ago, “Those are a lot of pretty words. Now what are we going to do?”

Another question was how to be successful in speaking with First Nations people – one answer was not to suggest integration. I have a problem with that but not how one might think. I don’t want them to integrate with us, I want to learn how First Nations lived in the thousands of years BEFORE they were colonized. My people have been disconnected from the land for hundreds of years. I know we have a problem and I believe the First Nations can teach us good ways.

We do have things to bring to the table – we have technology, manpower, a wisdom of our own and a deep need to find a better way. If we don’t find a better way we will be homeless – and dead because Earth is the only home there is. What answer can we find together for our home?

What do we have to work with? – Whatever we can drum up!
Who’s available? – Everyone who is idle…
What do we do with them? – Engage their interest, create opportunities, feed them
How? – Indoor organic gardens, culture, wisdom and knowledge

Long ago, First Nations villages were centred around a longhouse. Women worked together while they watched the kids. Everybody had something to do and shared most of their meals. In that society there was no poverty, nobody ever had to be alone and nobody was ever out of work.

A network of a new kind of longhouses in re-purposed malls, churches and warehouses can actively respond to many of the challenges we face. The seed of the idea began as Heart Gardens, now Our Heart Gardens, or OH-Gs. I envision government and businesses contributing to these nodes of abundance to help everyone help each other as well as their employees and their families. If everyone is involved and well fed, their employees will be better able to accomplish the work that has broken so many people. The existing system is not sustainable but it COULD help sustain us all by circulating some of their profits and/or taxes through these facilities. Mass transit, as part of the solution, would have better ridership with improved security, frequency and dependability. Unique Oh-Gs could become attractions, with tours and tourists.

At their chosen OH-G, many people would drop in to be with others, learn and work together on simple tasks associated primarily with growing organic produce in a large central area surrounded by living walls of the plants they tend. While they work, they can be entertained or educated by a diversity of people, in person or online shared on big screens. Other elements of the facility provide different tasks, enabling people to do work that suits them.

Bringing the gardens indoors allows year-round crops sheltered from the weather, and enclosing the good smell of fertile earth has two benefits: it smells good and it has medicine in it. Just 15 minutes breathing the rich smell of fertile earth can relieve symptoms of Clinical Depression all day – with no side-effects and no overdoses! Everyone can enjoy and benefit from it. It is mycobacterium vaccae, one of the beneficial bacteria we naturally host in our bellies. It’s what I learned about because of watching the Crow Surgeon successfully excise a “black pearl” from a living worm!

Other elements that may be needed or wanted within a “full-service” Oh-G include:

  • kitchen(s)
  • restaurants for paying customers (workers eat free)
  • artisan studios where people with an interest can connect
  • places to learn more about things shared in the central common area
  • somewhere to keep the big version of the totem pole while it is being carved!
  • child, elder and challenged refuge and support
  • government services access
  • rehearsal space
  • library and quiet places
  • a sweat lodge or sauna and baths
  • nurses’ and/or doctors’ consultation space(s) and
  • alternative health practitioners whose free services help those in need while they attract new clients, or to practice for free before moving into their own businesses
  • composting, soil mixing (and workshops are needed to make the planters!)
  • exercise machines to convert our daily exercise into power (POP, Power of People!!)
  • offices and meeting rooms for planning and administration – internal management to be by council, elected and informed by sharing circles that welcome all participants of the Garden.

Stand-alone satellite facilities of the OH-G network could include POP facilities, shops for produce or goods created at the Gardens and to increase awareness of them, baths and meeting places in Seniors’ Homes, composting facilities, to name a few.

With facilities open all day, every day, Our Heart Gardens can improve accessibility to help for the vulnerable and give shift-workers and insomniacs a good place to go. Elders who want to be engaged without exposing themselves to difficult situations will be safe and welcome.

Benefits include an increased food supply and less shipping; relief of poverty and hunger until cessation; personal security and safety, access to and delivery of government and NGO services; transportation; daily health and maintenance; outreach and engagement of children, teens, the elderly and the marginal; culture continuity, visibility and diversity; child-care and engagement of new moms, teens, addicts, victims of family violence, isolation, and mental health.

If you see yourself as part of this in any way, I want to hear from you!


That’s it (with a few revisions). I signed it and posted it…  and I’m posting it here too, knowing that my actions are part of a trend, a movement toward taking care of each other in a better way. It doesn’t matter what we call it – this is something we can do! We can manage them in a way proven over thousands of years: by the love of our mothers, the knowledge of our elders and with the support of All Our Relations. I’ve seen it beginning in many places but it is almost invisible because everyone isn’t included and the existing networks haven’t connected enough for everyone to see… How do we do that? The OH-G website could be used for that purpose but I don’t know how…

I call upon you to reply, join the conversation – let’s talk about this! Can you see the possibilities? What effect would this have in your community? Let’s grow some love in Our Heart Gardens where we can take care of each other and Grow… Happy… Together.