Windhorse Farm transfers to Indigenous-led charity for ongoing land stewardship


  • <p>SCREENSHOT, ULNOOWEG EDUCATION CENTRE</p><p>Screenshot of a portion of a video by the Ulnooweg Education Centre, an Indigenous-led charitable organization, celebrating its acquisition of Windhorse Farm.</p>
  • <p>FACEBOOK/CBC NEWS/JEORGE SADI, PHOTO</p><p>Jim and Margaret Drescher, previous owners of Windhorse Farm, and Chris Googoo, Ulnooweg Education Centre chief operating officer, are shown here in a circle on the property for sacred fires.</p>

For Lunenburg County's Margaret and Jim Drescher this has been a particular poignant Christmas and new year.

Last month, in the spirit of reconciliation, the owners of the 81-hectare Windhorse Farm outside of Bridgewater finalized an arrangement that would see their historical property, which has been in the hands of settlers for nearly two centuries, returned to the Mi'kmaq.

Through a combination of purchase and gift, the Dreschers transferred ownership of Windhorse Farm to the Ulnooweg Education Centre, a Halifax-based, Indigenous-led charitable organization that aims to empower Indigenous communities through education programs, collaborative research and development. The centre is a branch of the Ulnooweg Development Group, which funds and fosters Indigenous businesses across Atlantic Canada.

For 150 years, the first European settlers on the land were the Wentzell family, who acknowledged the uniqueness of the property's pristine old growth forest at Wentzell Lake in the LaHave River watershed. They resisted the pressures of clear cutting and practised sustainable forestry and agriculture, protecting the land for future generations.

Since buying the property, then known as Wentzell Farm, in 1990, Margaret, now 74, and Jim, 78, have carried on the land stewardship. Over the years they enlisted other like-minded people, so-called Forest Families, to help sustain the forest and the property's future as a retreat and education area.

The Dreschers have transferred their ownership of the eight hectares of developed area, which includes organic permaculture gardens, a conference lodge, a century-old farmhouse, barn, off-grid forest cabins, a wood shop, lake access, and walking trails. As well, they've transferred their share of the forest land. They anticipate that the other families will transfer their shares of the forest as well.

"'Peace on earth, goodwill to men' seems apt in that the benefit of this place will be even further amplified as an education and healing centre for the Indigenous people," Margaret commented in an email to LighthouseNOW. "Particularly the Elders and youth giving to each other, receiving from the land and caring for the land together, is all in the spirit of generosity, reciprocity and the good medicine of the season at this time of societal polarity and global environmental crisis," she added.

It had always been her and her husband's plan to return the land to the Indigenous communities, Margaret said. Nonetheless, the two were "so relieved that, after three-and-a-half years of conversation, it has come to this very happy conclusion."

Noting that they live in the house next door to the property, she said, they were looking forward to having the Indigenous people as our neighbours," while enjoying their children and grandchildren and a slower pace of life.

The couple remains committed to the "land back movement."

"Hopefully we will have modelled a way for more people to be able to return their property, be it a developed property like ours, or just land, and bring it back to the Indigenous peoples," she said.

"We are grateful to the Dreschers and the Forest Families for their stewardship and caring for the land. We greatly appreciate their desire to return this land into the care of the Mi'kmaq," Chris Googoo, the Ulnooweg Education Centre's chief operating officer, commented in a news release.

"Through our efforts to conciliate with the settler population, we aim to reconcile with Mother Nature and give hope for future generations. Windhorse Farm will provide meaningful programming through land-based healing and educational programs in a safe space for all who wish to come, especially youth and elders."

Meanwhile, the centre also will be focused on the financial end of things, and raising funds to help cover a mortgage on the property, and maintenance and operating costs for the next couple of years.

"We're looking at roughly a $2 million campaign," Googoo told LighthouseNOW.

He said it's hoped the philanthropic community "will see this as a very special moment in the history of the region, and especially Nova Scotia, and provide the necessary contributions towards it, as an example of reconciliation."

As the centre moves toward helping to improve relations between the Indigenous community and Nova Scotia's business, not-for-profit and philanthropic sectors, Googoo wants to see those groups continue to rent the farm's facilities, such as Juniper Lodge. However, he would like to see the Indigenous community use the space more.

"It has been used, but I don't think to the extent that it can be," said Googoo.

"I know Jim and Margaret have had close ties to the Indigenous communities around the area there, but I don't think the place has been viewed as what we view it as a place for education and learning, specifically for Indigenous knowledge sharing.

"So that is what we're looking at to do. We can bring the status quo, the leadership teams, the retreats and all that stuff. But we would like to add to it the Indigenous component. And give us a way to build those allyships that we need," he said.

More about the Ulnooweg Education Centre's plan regarding fundraising for acquisition and operational costs so it can focus on educational programming, can be found here on the internet: http://www.ulnoowegeducation.ca/windhorse/

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