Kenkamken Memorial Garden

  • Location
    United States
  • Status

The Problem

We created the Kenkamken Memorial Community Garden at Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation Kanakanak Tribal Hospital in Curyung (Dillingham), Alaska in memory of a young Yup'ik Eskimo woman, Kenkamken who committed suicide at 16 years of age. She leaped off a rooftop in Anchorage. Kenkamken means "I love you" in Yup'ik Eskimo language of Alaska. We cultivated up on the tundra of Alaska in honor of Kenkamken's memory and to provide food, a peaceful, clean and inspiring environment, a place to cultivate and share, and respect the environment, and to involve and engage Alaska First Peoples in growing their own healthful natural foods free of pesticides and herbicides. We cultivated healthful produce such as kale, strawberries, radishes, arugula, spinach, cabbage, potatoes, various kinds of lettuce, mustard greens and other assorted crucifers, carrots, peas, Nasturtium, chives, onions, garlic, beets, chamomile etc. and to share the harvest. I grew forget-me-not flowers (Myosotis) in every row to remember Kenkamken and to add beauty to the cultivated produce. We provided people of all ages and children with a place to cultivate in honor of Kenkamken's young life. We shared produce and taught children with great interest.

Our Plan

With 20 hours of daylight, the garden flourished in the bush of the Alaskan tundra on the Bering Sea! It was a great success and the fence was secured to keep out the moose, rabbits, dogs and wolves. It was an ongoing process and will continue to be used hopefully for many years. In the long daylight hours of the Alaskan summer, weeds have an excellent opportunity to thrive therefore we taught children how to discern weeds from cultivated plants and some of the "weeds" such as chamomile were harvested and used for tea, food and medicine. It is much work cultivating in the acidic tundra soils however the garden progressed beautifully and with great success. Children are learning, planting, weeding, watering and observing. We worked in the garden several hours a day and Kenkamken's aana (mother in Yup'ik Eskimo language) was welcome to harvest any time although she lived quite a distance from the garden at Lake Aleknagik. "This is your garden" I explained when she visited. While still in mourning for her daughter, she was deeply moved to tears by the Kenkamken Memorial Garden. She was thoroughly touched to be engaged in the garden that bears her daughter's name in Yup'ik language. I told her that she is welcome to have the plaque that I painted and hung on the garden in Kenkamken's memory with the state flower of Alaska, Myosotis, forget-me-not painted on it. Kenkamken's aana took the plaque and I believe it is an inspiration and a blessing for her to continue to cultivate in Kenkamken's memory. Her son, Pipiisiiq will continue to cultivate in his beloved sister's memory as a way to bring comfort and beauty to his family's life. The garden was a meeting place of solace. Some made paintings of the beautiful flowers. Children delighted in hunting for peas, strawberries and spinach leaves (like Popeye consumed for strength!) every day and they loved to see the potato plants push up through the soil. The children so enjoyed tasting fresh chives and sweet baby carrots. Yup'ik elders visited and harvested and shared their ethnobotanical uses of wild harvested plants. We shared with visitors every day and welcomed all. There are some farmers' markets in the town of Dillingham however our garden produce was free! Obtaining nutritious pesticide-free produce is a great challenge in the long winters in Alaska. Many suffer from nutritional deficiencies, which in turn affects physical and mental health. Cultivating in the acidic tundra soils was a great deal of work but the garden developed beautifully, collectively and successfully. The garden will live on……and so will Kenkamken's blessed memory.

Themes Addressed

  • term icon
    Community Enhancement
  • term icon
    Food Choices
  • term icon
    Indigenous Rights

The Benefit

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