The land owns us

George Grassick, who worked with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to have 138 acres of land, ripe with prairie grasses and wildlife, protected near Regina Beach. Grassick’s grandfather learned about the uniqueness of the land from First Nations people living in the surrounding areas. Photo by Carol Rose Daniels.

by Carol Rose Daniels

“They aren’t just memories,” says George Grassick. He’s talking about wild prairie. Untouched. Undeveloped and places where life begins.

“I remember when I was a kid, my family owned land (in the area which is now East Regina),” he said. “The tall prairie grass was so high back when I was a kid, it would be almost as tall as a horse. As a boy, we played hide and seek in there all the time. And, that wild grass area was home to all sorts of plant life as well as deer and badgers, burrowing owls and different species of birds, foxes and coyotes.”

It is with a tinge of sadness when George talks about how his dad wanted to figure out how to have that land deemed as a protected area so that it wouldn’t be developed.

“The land had been in the family a long time,” he said. “Grandpa’s family travelled from Scotland – making their way to Saskatchewan in 1882. How the family survived in those early days is specifically because of the First Nations people living in surrounding areas. The people at (places like what is now the Piapot Reserve) helped them get through that first winter especially. Those people also taught my grandpa about the uniqueness of the land. They became friends – with the First Nation eventually making Grandpa an Honourary Chief. They gave him the name Chief Strongheart. I still have his feathers today.”

Not long ago, George Grassick wore those feathers, in acknowledgement of his grandparents.

“That old homestead. When my own dad retired, he tried to find help to designate the land as protected, but back then, there wasn’t much help to do that. I think Dad was very sad to watch that magic area be developed eventually – with a bunch of houses that look all the same.”

In a sense, Grassick says, those familial roots are why he and his wife Patti, did what they did.

“For years, we have been working with an organization called the Nature Conservancy of Canada,” Grassick explained. “We have 138 acres which overlooks the valley near Regina Beach and we wanted to do something to make sure that this area is never developed.”

It’s 138 acres of untouched prairie and now it’ll stay that way — in perpetuity — which means it has a legal designation as a protected area.

“I see this as a victory, even to my parents and grandparents,” said Grassick. “If Patti and I didn’t do this, there could be bulldozers in here at any time — if this parcel land was ever to leave the family.”

But it is not just the legal designation which gives their parcel of land historical importance. Grassick says there is evidence the land was a significant hunting ground for First Nations in the days before the area became populated.

“They call this Hunter’s Hill and you can see why,” he says pointing to wildlife along the valley below. “It’s important for Patti and I to acknowledge the deep history of the land. That’s why we included a traditional Native pipe ceremony as well as pow wow dancing on the hill as a way to say thank you to those who came before. The First Nations have always been stewards of the land. It’s important they continue to play a role in celebrating that the land will continue to be protected from now on.

“In part – we did it because of reconciliation and making it clear of what we owe.”

It is a statement that is in keeping with a well-known mantra within First Nations culture — that we do not own the land, the land owns us. The land is a part of us and we are a part of the land.

The afternoon ceremony included the traditional hand drum as well as the Grassick familial – skirl of the bagpipes. It was attended by friends and family members. As Patti Grassick holds one of her grandchildren, it is easy to realize there is a deeper meaning to the day.

As the little girl grows up she can remember with pride. Maybe she will return to this exact same spot, decades from now and as a woman. Maybe she will be holding her own grandchild then, looking out upon the same view that will now remain unchanged.

A place where the Indigenous plants will continue to thrive.nThe wild animals will continue to roam freely. And the parcel of land will remain unharmed because of what her grandparents did.

WPR