Can Wigmunke, The Rainbow Tree is a local gardening effort on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that works with community members to prepare and plant community gardens to increase green spaces and improve the quality of life for everyone living on the reservation. The project uses their farmer’s markets and gardens as a small business model and inspiration for reservation youth looking to create their own jobs on the reservation.
Traditionally Native American youth were taught by the entire village, often in natural settings. Can Wigmunke has chosen to adopt this traditional model of working with and teaching the youth on Pine Ridge about gardening. Their community gardens have become experiential classrooms where youth learn about sustainable methods for growing their own food. The youth even take on service projects in their communities, like planting 273 trees across the reservation and transforming vacant lots into vibrant community botanical gardens.
Greenhouses are critical in South Dakota, where the growing season is three months at best. In 2011, Running Strong was able to provide a greenhouse for the project’s base farm which allowed them to start planting early in March.
"It's so wonderful to have fresh vegetables and the native wild fruits available right here. I'm tired of people having to buy food from convenience stores and gas stations. Your market, the gardens and this greenhouse you all did is such a gift. It's great to hear that there's a place to go now to get plants and veggies right here on the Rez! Who'd have thought? A greenhouse and a market just a few miles from my home." - Grandma Sharlene
On average, the project works with 650 youth and 1500 adults each year hands on and directly impacts 5,750 community members across Pine Ridge.
Examples of Roots & Shoots service projects Include:
- 10 Native and non-Native Girls came together to celebrate Peace Day and learn about each other’s culture’s and share in Roots & Shoots Projects.
- A vacant lot on the Main Street of Martin was transformed into a vibrant community botanical garden
- Volunteers planted 273 trees across the reservation
- A community basketball court was restored in the community of Kyle
- A free culturally important native species and perennial plants botanical garden established on the reservation
- One group raised $627 to support conservation work with polar bears
- One group raised funds and rehabilitated the Medicine Root Senior Center including adding a Wii Fit Station
- A group organized and delivered Thanksgiving dinners to 120 rural families
- Christmas gifts were wrapped and presented to every student (K-12) at Little Wound School (over 900 students received gifts)
- Historical artifacts (a bracelet and medicine pouch with blood on it) from the original Wounded Knee Massacre were sent to the Little Wound School Roots & Shoots group and were, in turn, donated by Roots & Shoots to the Oglala Lakota College’s Cultural Center
- A joint Nebraska and South Dakota volunteer Roots & Shoots group rescued 66 animals, 57 which were adopted out via the Black Hills Humane Society or other animal rescue and adoption programs and the other nine (wildlife) were successfully reintroduced back into the wild
- Eight Roots & Shoots training workshops were conducted for teachers, informal educators, parents and non-profit staff members, directly resulting in 29 Roots & Shoots adult volunteer group leaders. In addition to the formal trainings, the program visited every school on the reservation and will continue to expand our program in the fall once school starts back up.