At this year’s annual New Brunswick Tourism Industry Gala, Wabanaki Tree Spirit Tours was awarded 2021’s Indigenous Business of the Year. For those who have experienced a tour with Wabanaki Tree Spirit, you may think this is a no-brainer. But for those who are unfamiliar with the tours, here’s what you’re missing.

The tours can be booked online, through email or by text anytime of year, snow or shine. After finding a time that works best for you, Cecelia and Anthony Brooks, a mother-son duo, meet you at the top of Odell park. The Brunswickan asked Brooks what a regular tour may look like. 

“We would start the walk with an explanation of the unceded territory. I would give you some tobacco to offer back to the trees, and to give thanks for what we received. We would walk into the forest and Anthony and I would share with you what we see – the edible trees and vegetation that has medicinal or cultural significance — while also sharing some of the legends and stories that are part of our culture. [Afterwards], we walk through the botanical gardens. 

“And then we’d… go back up the hill. We’d be walking through some example gardens. And that’s it.

“Or, in winter we always bring… fir needle tea. It’s really nice. It’s hot, and it’s comforting. So we’ll go out and share that with people. So it will be basically the same [experience as summertime] except for the cold. And of course fewer herbaceous plants we see, you know, the evergreens.”

Owners Cecelia Brooks and son Anthothy have been doing tours through Fredericton’s Odell park for three years now. 

The business came about in 2019, starting off slow but steady, Brooks explained. Following that, as their second year of operation commenced, COVID restrictions swept across the world. Although tragic, this was beneficial for business as outdoor activities were permitted at that point. Thus, popularity grew. 

More and more people started coming, Brooks told The Brunswickan, but it wasn’t until the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found on the grounds of a Kamloops residential school that business exploded. 

“I think Canadians who are just not aware were now fully aware that what we as Indigenous people have been saying about the residential schools was true. And some of it might have been guilt. Some of it might have been a duty to understand their true history. 

“But we were overwhelmed this summer. It was every other day. 

“People were asking us, ‘Could you walk Tuesday?’ And I’d say no, we have a walk on Tuesday morning, and they would ask, ‘But can you do Tuesday afternoon?’ I would say no, our policy is to do only one walk.

“We don’t like to do a walk every day, because it’s draining. When we are out walking with people, we’re not just sharing information. We’re sharing our energy. We’re sharing our knowledge, and sometimes emotions about the things that have happened here on the land.”

When asked why she felt it was important to do walks, Brooks said that it was because there was such a wide range of misinformation with regards to the culture and land. 

“This is our homeland,” she said. “People have come here in the past 400 or 500 years and people still continue to come here. The new citizens do not know much information regarding Native culture. 

“The public school system should do better to educate the people but they’re not. And since they’re not, that gap needs to be filled. If not, that void can attract disinformation,” she explained. 

“You hear things… that are absolutely not true. You know, a lot of mythology around who we are coming from the non-Native community. So that’s what we aim to do, is to kind of fill that gap.”

During these walks Brooks will educate and share her information and energy. She does her walks with her son generally in Odell park. That’s where the tours take place. However, Brooks has been known to walk private properties. 

“We’ve walked in other parks. In fact, in the wintertime, we’ll go to Killarney because… Odell Park is quite steep. And so it can get slippery and then a little bit treacherous. And so we’ll take people over to Killarney and we stay on the main trail there where it’s pretty flat and safe,” she said. 

Cecelia and Anthothy watch light bulbs go off in people’s heads each walk as they teach the depth of Indigenous knowledge that’s within our communities. 

The award was a real surprise to Cecelia and Anthony. They didn’t try to win, and didn’t do it for the accolades. They do it to sincerely teach people about our land.  

Brooks said that when they found out they’d been nominated without trying, they were shocked. They simply like to teach, share, walk, and help educate others. 

Overall, Brooks says that she has no business model or plan for the future, and simply relies on the flow and energy of those she encounters. But, one thing is certain: she and her son will continue to walk with those who seek understanding.