Just as we have shaped trees in cities, trees have helped shape us and our cultures.
Text-A-Tree welcomes everyone and will be honouring two cultures in particular:
Mi’kmaq and Japanese!
One of the concepts that first inspired the Text-A-Tree endeavor is msit no’kmaq, which means “our people” or “all my relations”. It refers to the community around us, and the way in which we are related to all things, not just to other humans. This phrase illustrates how both humans and non-humans possess personhood. In Mi’kmaq tradition, animals, plants, and geographic locations can all be considered to have identities. They are all acknowledged as experiencing existence in the first person. In this way, humans are not separate from nature, but members of Earth’s community.
One of the goals of Text-A-Tree is to help people develop personal relationships with trees. Recognizing trees as unique, living, individuals, could help us do that. Incorporating Mi’kmaq perspective is especially appropriate given that Halifax and the Public Gardens rest on Mi’gma’gi, the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq people. Mi’kmaq culture continues today and has helped to shape the culture and community of Halifax.
How are these perspectives considered?
4 of the textable trees are native to Nova Scotia, and have contributed to the rich 13,500 year history of the Mi’kmaq people. These are the sugar maple, black ash, red spruce, and yellow birch. Through your conversations with the trees, you can learn about how they were traditionally used and what cultural significance they have. The signs in front of these trees will display both their English and Mi’kmaq names. You’ll also notice that they greet you differently than other trees, with the phrase Kwe! It means “I am here!” and is a greeting stemming from a practice in which hunters would call out kwe! to let others know they were in the area.
Our volunteer tree-speakers have learned about the Mi’kmaq perspective through their own experiences, and through the knowledge shared by our cultural guides. We do not claim to speak for the Mi’kmaq people, but rather to lend our voices (and texts) to the trees. We believe the trees would be proud to share their ancient and ongoing relationship with Nova Scotia's first people.
In 1982, Halifax and Hakodate, Japan became twin cities. Both cities have active seaports, and even share a fort in the shape of a star! This relationship was commemorated by the Halifax Public Gardens with the planting of several Japanese species of trees and shrubs. Just as the addition of these plants contributed to the beauty and diversity of the Gardens, so too has our culture been enhanced by the diverse peoples who now call Halifax home.
While researching for Text-A-Tree, we were inspired by the ancient concept of Kodama, in which some trees are recognized as possessing a “soul” or “spirit”. In modern times we see the yearly tradition of Hanami, meaning “viewing and enjoyment of flowers” (most commonly referring to Japan’s famous cherry blossoms). Another connection is seen in the tradition of the Wish Tree. During the Festival of Tanabata, wishes are written onto colourful strips of paper and hung onto trees and bamboo shoots.
The study portion of Text-A-Tree hopes to better understand why people value trees in cities. By celebrating different cultures in Halifax, we hope to encourage people with all backgrounds to participate and share their values.
How are these perspectives considered?
4 of the textable trees are native to, or have cultural significance in, Japan. These are the katsura tree, ginkgo, Japanese tree lilac, and magnolia. Text-A-Tree will launch on the 7th day of the 7th month (July 7, 2019) to coincide with the Tanabata festival. Our beautiful katsura tree will take on the role of the Wish Tree; it will be ready to receive your everyone’s wishes via text! Click here to read more about the Tanabata festival and the Wish Tree. Our Japanese trees will use the phrase konnichiwa, which means “hello” or “good day”. You’ll also see that their signs display both the English and Japanese name for the tree. Through the eyes of the trees, we hope to celebrate Halifax’s Japanese connection.
Nova Scotia Museum, Mi’kmaq Portraits Collection