SAN DIEGO — A new garden in downtown San Diego is honoring Kumeyaay culture.
Students from Barona Indian Charter School researched, designed and planted the garden at The New Children's Museum as a way to showcase their heritage.
Thirteen-year-old Henry Cook never thought he would enjoy gardening as a hobby, but now, he can describe all the native plants in the garden he helped create. The space is filled with native plants like white sage, bush sunflower, lemonade berry and many others that are traditionally used for medicine, cooking and basket-making by the Kumeyaay tribe native to San Diego.
Henry's favorite is the California Poppy.
“Their seeds can be used as a pain relief," he explained. "It was a natural pain killer, as well as it can help with headaches and other things.”
Thirteen-year-old Jacob Boller said he learned a lot and was able to reconnect with his heritage.
“My favorite plant is Shaw’s Agave," he said. "You can use it to make nets, sandals and baskets.”
The garden was created through a partnership with Barona Cultural Center & Museum, The New Children’s Museum and Barona Indian Charter School, with help from an environmental grant by San Diego Gas & Electric. The garden project is called ‘Iipay Nyechewuuw, which means “Our People’s Garden” in Kumeyaay.
Laurie Egan-Hedley, director of the Barona Cultural Center, believes teaching students about the culture and people who were first on the land is an invaluable part of their education as they grow up in San Diego.
“It’s important for the kids to learn what once was and be able to keep it current and keep it in the backs of their minds now as they want in two worlds,” she said.
Kurosh Yahyai is the studios manager at the New Children’s Museum and believes the garden goes beyond the students. The space will eventually be used for educational workshops for museum visitors, and he hopes it will teach and inspire the community by acting as a living tribute to San Diego’s Indigenous people.
“We recognize that they were here before us and we’re on their land. As we were talking to other Indigenous communities, we realized that that land acknowledgment kind of falls short," Yahyai said. "These people still exist, they’re still here. What other meaningful collaborations can you do beyond just this plaque on a wall?”
‘Iipay Nyechewuuw was inspired by Barona Charter School’s Native Plant Garden and the Native Plant Seed Library installed at Barona Cultural Center & Museum in partnership with the San Diego Audubon Society.
Henry said he is looking forward to seeing how the garden grows through the years.
“So many different plants that were here before any of the settlers got here, so it’s interesting learning about all the knowledge,” he said.
Milkweed has also been included in the garden to provide a habitat for migrating Monarch butterflies, and they are also working to install a free native seed library.