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Success Stories Winnebago Tribe | Nebraska

Partnership Success Story
Winnebago Tribe
Winnebago, Nebraska (northeast Nebraska)
Story by: Joanna Pope (402) 437-4123 joanna.pope@ne.usda.gov
Story written: August 2006

 

Front of AiKiRuti Healing Garden.

 

A small seed can grow into something great. That is the symbolic idea behind the AiKiRuti Healing Garden. AiKiRuti ("pronounced I-key-ru-dee") is a project that was started by members of the Winnebago Tribe. AiKiRuti, which means "helping hand" hopes to be a helping hand in fighting drug and alcohol abuse in the Winnebago Tribe and their northeast Nebraska community.

The Healing Garden was started in 2002 when over 100 varieties of indigenous plants significant to the Winnebago people were planted at the one-acre site in Winnebago, Neb. Members of the community worked together to clear the land and prepare the site for planting. The Natural Resources Conservation Service supplied seed for the garden through the Nebraska Loess Hill RC&D and the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Manhattan, Kan.

Mark Janzen, plant materials specialist at the Plant Materials Center, said the idea behind a healing garden is that plants can bring healing and hope to a community.

"These plants will help focus Tribal members back towards their cultural heritage and help them identify the significance that plants had in their cultural history," Janzen said.

AiKiRuti Healing Garden. The Winnebago people used to depend on plants for food, fiber and medicine. Much of that knowledge has become lost over the years. The AiKiRuti Healing Garden wants to help bring that knowledge back to the Tribe, and along with that knowledge, pride and cultural identity. The plants in the garden are central to that learning process. By having a better understanding about how the Tribe used native plants Tribal members can grow more connected with their culture, the land, and eventually to themselves and each other.

Several members of the Winnebago Tribe have become enthusiastic about learning the role plants played in their cultural history. Local children volunteered to plant buffalo grass at what would become the Healing Garden's Tee Pee site. CeCe Earth, a member of the AiKiRuti organization said this provided a unique opportunity for Winnebago children to do something to help restore a piece of their Tribe's culture.

"These kids rode their bikes to the garden to check on their grass. They were really excited to see how well it was growing. It is now one of the most sacred sites in the garden," Earth said

The AiKiRuti organization wants to move into the next phase of the Healing Garden soon. This involves building a Cultural Learning/Visitors Center. The center will provide a place of cultural discovery for members of the Winnebago Tribe, and provide an opportunity for non-Indians to participate in cultural and educational activities alongside members of the Tribe.

"It can take a long time for a garden like this to really start to look like something. But if you look closely you can see some beauty and hope emerging," Earth said.

Hope is what has kept this project moving forward. AiKiRuti can also be interpreted as meaning "hand reaching out to help." Members of the Winnebago Tribe are hoping this Healing Garden will soon live up to its name.