Exploring the Meaning of Therapeutic Horticulture for Anishinabek Youth in a Brief Residential Treatment Unit: A Community Engagement CSL Case Study


  • Connie H. Nelson Lakehead University
  • Michelle Uvanile
  • Judi Vinni Willow Springs Creative Centre
  • Rebecca Schiff Lakehead University




community service-learning, youth, community-based research, Indigenous, horticultural therapy


This paper explored community-university engagement that integrated a short-term treatment facility for Indigenous youth, a social enterprise organization that focused on healing through horticulture therapy experiences and an interdisciplinary academic team. The focus was to discover whether a horticulture therapy (HT) approach held promise in terms of an appropriate way to expand community service-learning (CSL) with Indigenous peoples and to encourage more diversity of voices in community service-learning experiences. Youth participants took part in a photovoice study and further semi-structured interviews to document their perspectives on the meaning of their horticultural experiences. Findings revealed that youth valued the overall HT experience itself; being connected to the gardens and nature and the social interactions exploring spirituality and the self were significant and meaningful for them. Further, findings demonstrated that a collaborative partnership that engaged multiple service agencies to explore novel ways for engaging youth in healing activities with a university team that guided the research approach holds promise as a CSL with Indigenous youth. We conclude with recommendations on the significance of community-university engagement in delivering therapeutic horticulture programs for Indigenous youth as a community service-learning initiative. 


Author Biographies

Connie H. Nelson, Lakehead University

a professor emeritus from Lakehead University, contributes a long-standing and robust network of relationships with northern communities in areas of social capital, food security, and community well-being. Through her community service-learning engagements, she has developed a complexity-based helping process called Contextual Fluidity. Email: cnelson@lakeheadu.ca


Michelle Uvanile

has a master's degree in social work completed her thesis focused on horticultural therapy with Anishinabek youth in residential treatment. Michelle has studied Horticultural Therapy with Mitchell Hewson, Master Horticultural Therapist, and led therapeutic horticulture programming for seniors in supportive housing. She is currently a social worker for people with complex needs.



Judi Vinni, Willow Springs Creative Centre

is the coordinator of Willow Springs Creative Centre and trained in horticultural therapy with Mitchell Hewson, Master Horticultural Therapist. She serves as a board member of the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association. She has 12 years of delivering therapeutic horticultural programs for Anishinabek youth, children with Autism, and seniors in long-term care. Judi is presently developing a Grief Gardening program. 


Rebecca Schiff, Lakehead University

Rebecca Schiff, an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University, has a long history of working closely with rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to investigate and research health issues and solutions, with a particular focus on intersections between health and sustainability.


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How to Cite

Nelson, C. H., Uvanile, M., Vinni, J., & Schiff, R. (2021). Exploring the Meaning of Therapeutic Horticulture for Anishinabek Youth in a Brief Residential Treatment Unit: A Community Engagement CSL Case Study. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 6(2), 52–68. https://doi.org/10.15402/esj.v6i2.61805

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