Canada’s own wild horse, the Ojibwe, is genetically different from the mustangs of America and is currently listed as Critically Endangered on Canada’s Conservation List. In an article we published in 2020, according to the Ojibwe Horse Society, “DNA evidence shows they are different from European-introduced horse breeds in distinctive ways that made them an integral and harmonious part of the North American boreal forest. The testimony of Indigenous elders affirms they have had a spiritual and working relationship with the Ojibwe Horse throughout time.”
While there are only 150 or so Ojibwe horses alive today, as reported in Canada’s National Observer, eight of them can be found on an Ottawa-area farm called Mādahòkì Farm, managed by Indigenous Experiences as part of the farm’s work of reclamation, education and celebration of Indigenous cultures and traditions.
“You’re never going to find a better example of reconciliation than those horses,” Maggie Downer, cultural ambassador and organizer of the equine assisted learning program at Mādahòki Farm, told Canada’s National Observer.
Mādahòki is Anishinaabe for “sharing the land,” and the farm first opened its doors to the public in October 2021. Visitors can sign up for a one-hour program to visit with the Ojibwe Spirit Horses and “hear their stories through the work of Artist Rhonda Snow with a painted series of stories she collected from the Elders across Turtle Island on their memories of this once wild horse.” Turtle Island is historically the name many Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking peoples gave to the North American continent.
Another horse element to the farm is its equine assisted learning (EAL) program run by Downer, who is Haudenosaunee from Thayendanegea. The therapy program at Mādahòki has a unique point of view that incorporates Anishinaabe Seven Grandfather teachings and provides cultural sensitivity to Indigenous participants.
As reported in the Canada’s National Observer, the Indigenized EAL model isn’t based on objectives, but instead focused on healing and partnership. “It’s surrounding ourselves around healthy living, that we all live in partnership,” Downer told the news outlet. “Nowadays, we hear about the sacred circle. In the city, we sometimes forget it’s not just people living in that circle: our animals, our winged [animals], even our plants, and to see that full picture — while including our horses — as not tools to be used, but as teachers.”