Anthony Tamez-Pochel is a co-founder of Chi-Nations Youth Council and First Nations Garden, a green space aimed at giving native communities a place to connect with the land and facilitate building relationships.
The 21-year-old, who is First Nations Cree and Sicangu Lakota, uses green spaces to connect native and non-native locals with their surrounding land in Chicago. After forming the Chi-Nations Youth Council to pass down traditions with his friends, he helped launch the First Nations Garden in 2019.
“The Chi-Nations Youth Council was started in 2012 with the mission to create a safe space for Native youth through arts, activism and education. We do a lot of environmental work, connecting the residents of the city of Chicago to the land that they’re living on,” Tamez-Pochel told In The Know.
The First Nations Garden provides equity to the local Native community who typically don’t have access to land. While some choose to live on reservations or in rural areas, 95 percent of Native Americans live in urban spaces like Chicago where Tamez-Pochel is from. It’s the city with the ninth-largest urban population of Native Americans at roughly 65,000.
“They’re able to get back down to their roots, plant the plants that are good for our bodies and good for our mental health that will sustain us for generations,” he explained.
The activist longs for a return to families growing their own food and their own herbs in their own backyard. He believes community gardens might be a solution.
“This is a project that extends far beyond the life of the garden,” Tamez-Pochel said. “When you come in and you destroy hundreds of years of culture and food systems, it’s gonna take some time to build that back.”
Natives and non-natives can plant their own fresh produce and prayer herbs like sage in the garden. They can also enjoy the wigwam erected in the garden used for social gatherings and traditions.
“All indigenous youth want is someone to listen to them and for our communities to be taken care of,” Tamez-Pochel stated. “It’s my hope that we start moving toward a future where indigenous people are respected in a way that isn’t a lip service to our communities.”
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