New orchard initiative bears fruit for education and healthy living

Alberta’s Beaver Lake Cree Nation cultivates a ‘living classroom’ for the community

Others may see an orchard.

Gary Lameman sees a “living classroom.”

In the fall of 2016, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation put down some new roots for healthy living, teamwork and education—with a schoolyard community fruit and berry orchard that’s believed to be the first of its kind in any Indigenous community across Alberta.

“Of course, First Nations people are hunters and gatherers, and traditionally our people have made sure that we preserve gathering spots for the future by taking what we need and not overharvesting,” says Lamemen, a councillor with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, near Lac La Biche, AB.

“Our new orchard, really, is a living classroom that teaches our people to care for the plants, grow the fruit, and live a healthier lifestyle.”

To date, about half of the community orchard has been established, with about 100 fruit trees of numerous varieties. Shelter belt trees are being planted and an irrigation system is being installed in June, while future plans call for the addition of raspberry canes and fast-growing Haskap shrubs, a hardy, disease- and pest-resistant plant that produces one of the earliest crops of all berry plants.

The nation’s leadership hopes that the orchard will promote:

  • Healthy eating habits;
  • A renewed interest in traditional food preservation activities, like canning and drying; and
  • Intergenerational social wellness, with cooperation required to plant, maintain and harvest.

The initiative will soon bear fruit, in a manner of speaking, with the community’s younger generation as well. Since last fall, the 100 or so students at Amisk Community School have been learning about the orchard, which is just outside the school building.

“The cultural component is very strong. We’re teaching the kids to live in harmony with nature,” says Lameman. “That cultural component is maybe not as strong as it used to be, and having the orchard there brings it right to the kids.”

Enbridge is committed to being a good neighbor and improving the well-being of the communities near our operations. In 2016, we invested more than $4 million in community-strengthening initiatives across Alberta, while our employee-driven United Way campaigns in Edmonton and Calgary raised another $3.5 million.

In Beaver Lake Cree Nation, we recently made a $3,000 donation to help establish the community’s orchard.

“It’s pretty exciting,” says Lameman. “Even in mid-May, the orchard was getting pretty green already.”