Healing Through Connection to Land, Sky, Stars, and Ancestors

A black and white watercolour of a woman walking in water

By Stephanie Morningstar

Artwork by Zeena Salam

I wish I could say that I come from a long line of badass Onkwehonwe womxn, (which I do), but the image that statement evokes may be misleading in that there’s no legacy of deeply-held cultural knowledge in our story. In fact, our familial story has many fractures and deleted bits from the pervasive and seemingly universal interruption of colonization. There’s a lineage of cultural experience, but they’re dysfunctional experiences unique to Indigenous people- residential school, the 60’s scoop, loss of language and knowledge- experiences that alienated my family from our birthrights as Haudenosaunee. Those fractures informed my expression of healing, land, and body as a Haudenosaunee womxn in ways that are only now beginning to manifest and speak deeply to the resilience of my people. I want to share that resilience in my own story of deep healing that started where my people started- Sky World, and how that healing informs my life and connection to my ancestors and land today.

Sky World is all around us and within us, as we are all made of stars. It’s where our ancestors come from, where Awenha’i (Sky Woman) comes from, where she fell from. Awenha’i brought medicines and food when she came from Sky World. The first of these fruits was niyohontéhsha’ (Fragaria vesca/wild strawberry), known as the “Big Medicine” because of its powerful healing properties- enough to warrant its own ceremony, enough to welcome the beloved dead as they walk the pathway along the Milky Way, lined with niyohontéhsha’, back to Sky World.

The other reason I love the name “Sky World” is a little more personal. My mother’s parents lived far from the reserve our family comes from (Six Nations), having emigrated to the United States (Buffalo, NY) in the mid-1940s. My family didn’t have the connection to “traditional” Haudenosaunee culture, so there aren’t stories of aunties teaching me beading and dancing at the longhouse. In fact, they saw traditional culture as a backwards, mysterious, and dark history that we were told not to look into too deeply. My mom and aunties may not have taught me how to bead or make corn soup, but they did however teach me how to laugh- and survive.

My family wasn’t raised “traditional Longhouse,” because of the legacy of harm of the residential school system. My mother’s father attended the residential school known as “The Mush Hole” in Brantford, ON, and his experience there, along with the looming threat of the ‘60s scoop, informed my understanding of my identity in that he discouraged connections to our Indigeneity out of a necessity for survival. Because of this legacy, my family had to create other traditions to express our spiritual connection to each other and the land.

One of my favourite ways to spend time with my mother when she was still here on Turtle Island was to climb the one-story set of steps up to the top of a stone building at a nearby state park and Star Watch. We lovingly call this place the “Stone Tower,” because, well, it was stone, and a tower. One of the traditions we created was to designate the space of the Stone Tower as sacred, a place for rites of passage like blessing new babies and honouring the women of my family before transitions, and most of all, Star Watching.

It was my mother who taught me how to Star Watch and sparked my passion for learning about Sky World. Star Watching is a practice in patience and presence- the trick was to soften your focus just enough to let the periphery of the sky encompass your vision, and scan back and forth searching for anything that seemed to move, shine brightly, blink, or change colour. I was around 10 years old when my mother started becoming more active in her passion of exploring the possibilities of the universe and questioning the reality we are conditioned to believe. That curiosity and questioning led me down my own garden path as an herbalist/

I’m a western trained herbalist and trained a bit with traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe medicine helpers, experiences that helped me understand more about myself and medicine ways than I can ever begin to share. When I decided to start my own practice as an herbalist, I was indecisive at first about what to name my apothecary. I come to this name, Sky World Apothecary, the product of a childhood that was filled with what others might consider abnormal or strange, but to me was a vector for mystery and connection to something larger than myself.

As I have grown more familiar with my culture I began to recognize my own passion for inquiry, especially regarding Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of which Star Knowledge is a facet. When I heard the Sky Woman story, the Haudenosaunee creation story, I knew I had to pull that thread and see what emerged. I wanted to honour my mother’s memory when naming this new path in life, making medicine for those still here with us, while honouring my ancestors in the Sky World.

Ultimately, Sky World Apothecary finally came to me after a long day of hiking and learning and picking medicines with some fellow herbalists. I came home sore, sunburnt, and bug-bitten, full of bliss and scratches on my legs. As I lay in bed I felt something click open in my heart centre, something activating inside me. It felt pink and soft and vibrant. As I lay there, drifting down to sleep, I saw nothing but strawberries. Big Medicine from Sky World. I felt the call to honour my ancestors and my dream of healing people through (re)connection to the land started to grow.

I recently stepped into the role of the Co-Executive Director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC), a new organization dedicated to advancing land and food sovereignty for BIPOC folks in the North-Eastern region of the U.S. I knew this was my dream position when I read the Vision statement: “Working to advance land sovereignty in the northeast region through permanent, secure land tenure for Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian farmers and land stewards who use the land in a sacred manner that honors our ancestors dreams — for regenerative farming, sustainable human habitat, ceremony, native ecosystem restoration, and cultural preservation.” Win!

NEFOC’s work is essential not only because our vision is dedicated to advancing land sovereignty, but because it’s doing it through a healing lens. One of the most insidious forms of colonization is the manifestation of lateral violence. We know the project of colonization is successful when the colonizers no longer have to expend energy to disrupt our relationships to each other and the land — when we do it to ourselves. This “divide and conquer” piece of the colonial project is exactly what we aim to collectively heal. Both Sky World Apothecary and NEFOC’s vision embody this at their cores. NEFOC is dedicated to repairing relationships with the Indigenous communities of the Northeast. Our goal as an organization is to restore right relationship to each other and the land, starting with listening to Indigenous leaders and people to hear and co-conspire with each nation on how to establish sovereignty.

I often go back to a statement made by Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder and activist from Queensland, Australia, who says it way better than I ever could: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We need to establish solidarity as BIPOC earth workers and land stewards. This work isn’t about centering any one way of being, doing, and knowing. It’s about picking up our universal responsibilities as Indigenous people (and we are all Indigenous to somewhere) to steward the land as a relative, to remember our ancestors’ dreams and pick up our roles as future ancestors, and to do this, not just for the next seven generations, but for all generations to come. I want to acknowledge the work of those who have come before us and paved the way for what may seem like a fairly idealistic and radical concept: advancing sovereignty and transforming the concept of “ownership” of land to a collective agreement to pick up our responsibilities to the land as a relative requiring respect and careful, intentional, mindful, and sustainable stewardship so that all Faces to Come have equitable access to home, health, and happiness. To me, that is what achieving healing looks like.

Stephanie Morningstar (She/Her) OnΛyota’a:ka – Oneida, Turtle clan, Lotinosho:ni/Haudenosaunee & German/English ancestral lineages. Herbalist, scholar, student, and Earth Worker dedicated to decolonization and liberation. She is the founder of Sky World Apothecary & Farm, serves as a Leadership Council member for the New England Women’s Herbal Conference and the International Herb Symposium, and is the Co-Director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust.

Black and White portrait of Zeena in a black hijab and fur hooded coat. She is smilling with a closed mouth.

Zeena is currently living in her home town Najaf, Iraq. She is studying accounting at the University of Kofa along with pursuing an art career on the side. She enjoys painting and drawing pieces that relate to Arabian culture, nature, and landscapes.

When We Grow Together

by Jamie Holding Eagle

Food culture can be a road to health and healing. However, work cannot stop there.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition disproportionately affecting poor, of colour, and Indigenous communities. In the Upper Midwest of the US, the prevalence rate of Type II diabetes is almost twice as high in the Indigenous population (13%) than in the white population (7%). However, the death rate is six times higher (North Dakota Diabetes Report, 2014). The rates are similarly high among Canada’s First Nations (Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada, 2013).

Type II diabetes is a preventable disorder. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type II occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to break down sugar in the body. Over time, the body produces less and less, leading to long-term issues like kidney, eye, and nerve damage (North Dakota Diabetes Report 2014). Type II is influenced by diet, whereas Type I is genetic. Diabetes was relatively rare among Indigenous populations. Satterfield et al. wrote, “Many elders remember a time when there was no word for diabetes in their language because the disease was almost unknown… A word pronounced SKOO yah wahzonkah, which links words for ‘sick’ and ‘sweet’ can be found in a Dakota dictionary published in 1976” (Satterfield, 2014).

The increase in diabetes is associated with a number of factors, including land displacement, boarding school trauma, and poverty. For generations, Indigenous communities hunted, fished, and gardened. The fresh food combined with the physical activity associated with such practices served to promote health. The shifts in community structure from villages to reservations, than reservations to urban areas disrupted family connections. Children sent to boarding schools returned to their families, speaking different languages and preferring different foods.

Food is another major factor, whether related to access, education, or resources. If you know you should eat better, is there an affordable source of fresh produce nearby? If you know how to cook, do you have the utensils and dishes to do so, as well as a refrigerator in which to store leftovers? Many people now live in what are called food deserts, which refers to an area with a lack of grocery sources.  Often, a convenience or liquor store may be the closest store, neither of which generally stock fresh produce beyond bananas or apples.

Food insecurity is the term used to refer to the issues impeding the ability to access affordable and healthy food. The World Health Organization defines the converse, food security, as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. One step further than that is food sovereignty, which refers to culturally appropriate foods as determined by the community. Food sovereignty values the connection between community health and food. Food justice is an umbrella term that incorporates all levels of the food system, from farmers to chefs to families and servers.

It is estimated that food travels an average of 1500 miles, which can be an uncertain variable when oil prices fluctuate, as well as contributes to carbon emissions. Building a local food system can help assure that access is more reliable. It also reduces environmental impact.

 

Current food initiatives across Indian Country are focused on rebuilding food systems in a way that draws on culture. Dream of Wild Health, in Minnesota, teaches young people how to grow and culture traditional foods. The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, is a chef out of Minneapolis who cooks using pre-colonial foods. Rowen White, a Mohawk seed keeper, grows ancestral seeds through the Sierra Seed Cooperative and uses sustainable practices, which she passes on through a series of classes.

I have worked with a volunteer-run group dedicated to building community through gardening. Volunteers and New American families work together during weekly meetings. All work is done by hand, no chemicals are utilized, and it is an intergenerational effort, with whole families attending.

The families are refugees from various areas of strife around the world, from Iraq to Rwanda. The Upper Midwest, with its extreme winters, can offer a sort of culture shock. Just those two factors alone, let alone language barriers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the very stress from displacement, can have a negative effect on mental health.

The gardening program has been successful. It has grown from one garden to four within the city. Thousands of pounds of produce are grown each year. Many families participate and more attend each year.

Access to land and access to gardening can do wonderful things for the health of a community. Gardening promotes physical health, it can help make new friendships, and can provide families with fresh food. With diabetes at epidemic levels, healthy food can make a major difference in health.

However, in the long-term, a major paradigm shift will need to occur. Community gardens cannot fill in the gaps left by violence, income inequality, and inadequate access to resources. A community garden can help bring a community together, but not if neighbors are afraid of police violence. A community garden can help a mother make new friends in her neighborhood, but what about the mothers fleeing their own community gardens?

And so, if you are a food justice advocate, we cannot separate ourselves from Black Lives Matter. If we care about how people eat for community health, we must care that they are dying. Similarly with the Syrian refugee crisis. As Native folks, we are living through the generational reverberations of land displacement, violence, and family disruption, as is reflected in our high rates of diabetes. We can help rebuild our own community’s health while not turning a blind eye to suffering elsewhere. It should never be one or the other. We know firsthand that crisis we experience impacts our grandchildren. My grandmas taught me that all elders were to be respected like grandparents, and so right now, there are children like our children in danger, and there are grandmas and grandpas in danger, too.

I will end on this note. I am from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. We have been through some interesting times, to say the least. We lived through several waves of smallpox in the 1800s, killing many, sometimes in hours. The accounts are nothing short of horrific. One of the things that haunted me the most was the isolation and sense of abandonment. I feel a sense of grief for them for having gone through that, as I do for other incidents. But, I don’t feel a sense of vengeance. The strongest feeling I get is the one that says, no one should ever go through that alone, ever again. When I see other people living through that violence right now, as their homes are destroyed and their children are dying, it’s the same feeling: no one should ever go through this alone, ever again. We all deserve to eat healthy food and we all have the right to be safe in our communities and to live free of fear.

References:

Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada

North Dakota Diabetes Report

Satterfield, D., Debruyn, L., Francis, C., & Allen, A. (2014). A Stream Is Always Giving Life: Communities Reclaim Native Science and Traditional Ways to Prevent Diabetes and Promote Health. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 38(1), 157-190. doi:10.17953/aicr.38.1.hp318040258r7272

World Health Organization: Food Security 


 

Jamie Holding Eagle
Jamie Holding Eagle is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. She is completing a Master’s of Public Health and is specializing in American Indian Health. She has worked in food science research and believes cultural connections are a vital part of food and public health.

Cultivating a Healing Touch

Re-imagining and reviving hilot for current and future generations

 by Michaela Cruz

Throughout my childhood in the Philippines, my family looked to a womxn named Aling Fe to relieve us of any ailments. We called her the manghihilot which if translated to English means healer. She would find the knots in our bodies and massage it away with her tough calloused hands. It seemed to restore the balance in my young body. The practice and belief in a healing touch are central in the ancient Filipino medical system referred to as hilot. Analogous to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the system also requires knowledge and use of medicinal plants. When I had flu-like symptoms my mother would bathe me in boiled water decocted with the skin of apple fruits, its leaves or twigs and citrus rinds. The heat and aroma gave me instant relief. I never questioned why she was doing this but later in life, I discovered that parts of apple trees are used in herbal medicine for anti-inflammation. Today when I think of my experiences with hilot I am grateful to womxn such as Aling Fe and my mother for passing down this traditional knowledge. I also realized that the practice of hilot as the giver or receiver requires empathy, a great deal of focus, reflection and prayer. I perceive these as guiding principles for the healing of our bodies as marginalized communities.

After completing my undergraduate in Plant Science, I was called to remember and reaffirm my experience with the teachings and gifts of hilot. Part of the calling was to honour the womxn who graciously passed down the teachings through their healing touch, healing energies, healing words and healing love. This reflection has since prefaced the rest of my life. I was prompted to assert something bigger than myself and to sustain the practices that have helped me through maladies, imbalances, fatigue and mental unrest. I decided to start a monthly workshop series that involves hands-on sessions on food and medicinal plants that grow in and around the urban landscape of Toronto. I thought that one way to start my journey of remembrance was to mend my relationship with the land I currently inhabit and to make connections with lives (human and non-human) that I share it with. The series was named Healing Hands because my long-term goal is to cultivate a healing touch within myself and perhaps others. I strongly believe reclamation of medical traditions involves realizing healing outside of Western medicine by unearthing experiences with ancient healing practices and incorporating them in our day to day. I hope to ensure the transfer of hilot to younger generations in its historical as well as reimagined form. I believe these sessions have the capacity to spark social and cultural innovation. Some of the Intentions/thoughts/ideas/goals include:

  • honouring indigeneity
  • growing/re-growing roots
  • unearthing erased histories
  • food as fuel/food as medicine/medicine as food
  •  recognizing and continuing our elders’ legacies
  • gaining more respect for the lands we inhabit
  • acknowledging settler privilege: walking lighter
  • reimagining the land before the urban
  • revealing our blind spots and unlearning
  • practicing unconditional gratitude
  • loving our beings and all other beings
  • nurturing solidarity
  • allowing us to reawaken our child-like sensibilities
  • cultivating our artisan/artist selves
  • a remedy for the week’s grind

To learn more about monthly workshop series please visit: www.facebook.com/events/334017973654915/


Micheala Cruz
Michaela Carmela facilitates the Healing Hands Botanical Workshop Series in Toronto. She is an aspiring grower with hopes to fuel and heal others through plants.

Deep Medicine: Cotton Root Bark and Reproductive Justice

by Karen L. Culpepper

Herbal medicine, or plant medicine, is a healing presence and a major healing tradition across the globe. Every culture in this world uses plant medicine in some form for food, healing and/or ritual. As a clinical herbalist with a deep love for folk medicine, I have always had a profound interest and curiosity about how groups of people, specifically Descendants of Africans Enslaved in the United States (DAEUS), used herbs traditionally. I discovered the opportunity to explore folk medicine in depth while studying herbal medicine in graduate school and cotton root bark became my teacher. I was guided to write my thesis about cotton root bark from a historical perspective through the lives of enslaved women who used the root as medicine from a space of social justice and reproductive empowerment.

Who and where was the original source of this understanding about cotton root bark? Knowledge about the cotton plant dates back to Mandingo women who used cotton root bark as an abortifacient during the first trimester of pregnancy. In doing research, I found that these women had the knowledge of long lactation for birth control, ritual abstinence, abortion and other forms of contraception. By using the root bark of the cotton tree, they were able to control their fertility during stressful times when there were limited resources, such as during drought or famine. This brings up the notion that enslaved Africans brought along with them their own traditions, values and existing knowledge about various plant medicines. In fact, in the Carolinas, plantation owners wanted enslaved Africans from very precise areas of Africa specifically for their knowledge around the cultivation of crops such as rice. Although enslaved Africans were eventually taken to a new land with a new language, there were some similar plants, food and herbs and quite naturally the knowledge of cotton root was easily transferred into the cotton fields of the southern states in the US.

The horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade, from the interior trek in Africa to the middle passage from, to the breaking in period to enslavement in the Americas, are indescribable and beyond imagination and comprehension. John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss summarized in their book From Slavery to Freedom (1994) somehow things went from producing crops to the “traffic[king] of human souls.” There are accounts of women being taken from their native land in Africa who grabbed soil and swallowed it as they begin their trek, possibly making it to the foreign land of America. The middle passage, a journey from Africa to the Americas, took anywhere from 1 to 4 months. Enslaved Africans were packed so tightly on ships that they were forced to lie on their backs with their heads between the legs of others in poorly ventilated area devoid of fresh air and sunlight, filled with urine, feces and blood. Arrival to the Americas did not bring relief. Sweltering weather conditions, the further breakdown of the family unit, forced pairings and rape accurately describes plantation life, not to mention the labor intensive crop called cotton, which required year round tending, harvesting and processing.

In the midst of this horror, a new branch of medicine was born called Allopathic medicine, with a specific branch dedicated to enslaved Africans called Plantation medicine. Enslaved folks were seen as less than and not human, therefore should be managed differently. Scientific racism began to rear its head with diagnosis such as drapetomania: is a mental illness that caused Black slaves to flee captivity. Dr. James Marion Sims “the father of gynecology” restricted his research to enslaved women, yet all the illustrations were of white women. Even though there was anesthesia available, he did not use any because enslaved women had a higher tolerance for pain (interestingly there was recently an article in The Washington Post (April 2016) about this very subject: pain management and racial bias). Doctors were working to perfect c[aesarean]-sections on enslaved women without using anesthesia because of their “high tolerance for pain”. As a result, this reinforced to both enslaved Africans and enslaved African Americans to take their own health and wellbeing into their own hands.

Self care became more of an underground phenomenon amongst the slave community, specifically in the realm of women’s health. Enslaved women had knowledge passed down from generations within their families, other herbalists or root workers and from Native Americans. Oftentimes an herbalist tended to the slaves because a visit to the doctor would cost the plantation owner. There were slaves that were granted their freedom because of their skill-set. Some plantation owners even acknowledged “Black doctors sometimes produced better results than white practitioners” and there was even a case in which a Governor freed an enslaved herbalist for their knowledge around venereal diseases. With slave women already claiming the role as herbalists and keeper of sacred recipes and remedies, they naturally fell into the role of being a caretaker and midwife amongst their peers in the community.

Women’s health concerns were very common amongst slave women and cotton was ubiquitous. Enslaved women used fresh cotton root bark as contraceptive by chewing on it throughout the day. There was one incident where this enslaved woman was forced to marry someone and could not stand her husband. She was not sleeping with him at all and he reported this and she received quite a few lashings. Furious, she said you all will never get any property out of me, since the status of the child took the status of the mother. She kept her word by chewing on cotton root bark and never bore a child. In The Eclectic Medical Journal (1860), there was a first hand account of the power and efficacy of cotton root bark to induce abortion. “My attention was called to the bark of the cotton root by two or three planters in Mississippi, during the Fall of the year 1857 and I witnessed it’s action in one case of abortion. A Negro woman collected some bark of the fresh root and some green seed (about a pint she told me) and made a quart of strong tea and drank about half of it. I was sent for by her master, but the drug had brought about such energetic pains that it was impossible to check them and she lost her child”.

Using scientific language, we now know that cotton root bark is an emmenagogue and oxytocic. In other words, cotton root bark has the following effects in the body: increases oxytocin, contracts the uterus, inhibits implantation and in higher doses induces abortion. There were accounts of plantation owners learning of the use of cotton root bark amongst slave women. As word began to spread to white physicians, they began to use another herb, black haw, as the antidote to stop miscarriages or abortions already in progress, however they often ran out of their supply of black haw because cotton was so abundant. It is fascinating to think in the midst of such suffering, enslaved women created a subtle and impactful way to protect their fertility, empower themselves reproductively and support themselves and each other through the use of plant spirit medicine.


Karen L. Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist and licensed massage therapist in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Her work in the world is to heal through touch, her healing presence and the use of plant spirit medicine. She can be reached at embracingrhythm27@gmail.com.

Bringing Birth Full Circle

by Cassandra Thompson

Our collaboration is our survival. It always has been. We are beings that require community and it’s support, to do all that we seek to achieve and create; from the seemingly minor tasks to major life-changing events. Turtle Island continues to be plagued by colonial oppression and conquest, the divisive techniques and tactics that our colonists have used to perpetuate a false survival structure of ‘individualism’, attempt to root themselves deeper in this land’s soil and in its peoples consciousness. We remember, however, in our soul memory, the need for a loved ones touch, the necessity for another’s helping hand and the urge for a compassionate vibration from folx in search of togetherness.

Illustration by Amir Khadar

We see the support of the community centered concept of ‘togetherness’ evidenced in the birthing structures that predated European settler regulations of midwifery in the 19th Century. We see it in the Grand “Granny” Midwives who used the resources they had been given access to, to create a safe, clean and relaxed birthing environment for whoever they were working with, black and white. These remarkable black womyn of the rural southern United States, would deliver the majority of the babies in their communities, many having delivered almost 90% of the babies in their communities before the regulation of midwifery, and subsequent erasure of the Granny Midwife tradition. These old-knowledge midwives took great pride in being able to support folx thru the process of carrying their children’s spirits through the veil to this life, otherwise known as, birth.

Birth was a process that rarely had access to a hospital in the rural South, so these black womyn who dedicated a major chunk of their lives to this work, had intervention and prevention techniques that consulted earth medicine for support, and trusted spirit to guide their hands. They respected the body’s inherent ability to give birth and knew the pregnant person would be more connected to that birth, if their agency and self-directed needs were respected and met. Doula work, or birth companion work, seeks to carry on this same tradition that our grandmothers laid out for our inheritance; including community in the birthing process.

The word ‘doula’ is a difficult word to claim, as it derives from a Greek word meaning ‘female slave,’ but is the most common term used for a ‘birth companion;’ a title that many more are claiming, who feel called to the work of supporting folx through birth. Trained in offering prenatal, birth and postpartum care, full circle birth companions are there to support you where a midwife is not able or allowed. Midwives are extensively trained to support all types of births, and see the pregnant person’s physical health & safety, and that of their baby, as the main priority. Though many IBPOC midwives recognize that emotional, mental and spiritual health will impact the physical state of a pregnant person, many are stretched too thin to be the sole resource for up to 40 pregnant individuals per year. That’s where birth companions come in. Guided strongly by intuition, spirit, earth medicine and compassion, birth companions can act as a support resource, not only for the pregnant person, but for the midwife, as well.

A birth companion’s main priority is creating a relaxed and affirming experience of birth and early parenting, for the pregnant person and their baby. This will often include discussion around spiritual experience, because birth is one of the biggest ones! As resistance to the currently regulated and colonial institution of birth that encourages ‘being told how to birth’ as opposed to ‘allowing the body to birth,’ birth companions will act as a support for basic needs that can lead to a more satisfied mental and emotional state for the pregnant person; for a lot of folx in Indigenous and black communities, we have an array of social impacts that are proven to decrease our access to safe, healthy and culturally relevant birth, in addition to shorter life expectancies after birth than non-black or non-Indigenous folx. These pieces, and the ways in which to mitigate them, need to be considered and acknowledged when supporting IBPOC folx at this right of passage. Birth companion’s of colour are often trained to do just that; bringing ancestral or old knowledge; evidence based, scientific information; an advocate’s voice and an intuitive sense that has been long respected by the teachings in our lineages as IBPOC folx.

Birth companion’s hold to the traditional experience of birthing, that included our family’s generations, our sistren, our closest friends and our community. Recognizing that although one’s body inherently knows how to birth, birth is not solely about birth. It is about death. It is about change. It is about confrontation of one’s Self. It is about the continuation of an ancestral herstory. It is about joy. It is about understanding pain. It is about healing. We cannot heal in isolation and we should not have to birth alone. We deserve to uphold the rituals of our ancestors and evolve them for our communities today. A major part of reproductive justice is having a birthing experience that self-directed, culturally relevant and inclusive of the community that will be present in the raising of that child.

Here are some supports that community can offer to support a pregnant individual who may not have access to a birth companion:

  • A healthy blood pressure level is considered less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic; many black folx are reported as having a high blood pressure due to the systemic, institutional and individual effects of racism, therefore a blood pressure cuff is key in monitoring blood pressure to reduce chance of miscarriage, heart attack and stroke
  • A fetoscope is key in the late 1st and subsequent trimesters to monitor the heart rate of the baby when access to an ultrasound is limited

Prenatal vitamins can be accessed over-the-counter, but here are some ways to incorporate into your diet:

  • Protein: beans, legumes, lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, nuts and tempeh
  • Carbs: rice, whole grain breads, vegetables, potatoes
  • Calcium: salmon or sardines with the bones, sorrel, okra, onion leaves, spinach, yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Iron: mustard greens, moringa, kale, spinach, lean red meat, blue green algaes
  • Vit A: carrots, butternut squash, yam, cod liver oil, sweet potatoe.
  • Vit C: citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers
  • Vit B6: bananas, whole grains, chicken and nutritional yeast
  • Vit B12: nutritional yeast, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, meat, fish and poultry
  • Vit D: sunshine, dairy, whole grains, cereals
  • Folic acid: collards, swiss chard, callaloo, dark yellow fruits, beans, peas and nuts
  • Fat: olive oil, coconut oil, whole-milk products, nuts, meats

When supporting someone with plant based remedies, it is necessary to have a non-judgemental perspective of an individual’s medicinal care choices to support their body. Included in this, is ensuring that the medicines you are offering do not interfere negatively with their established medicinal care routine and their body’s needs. If you wish to offer these medicines forward, be sure you are someone who has been offered this individual’s care and medicine routine.

Brew Instructions for teas:

  • steep ½ tsp of each medicine, per 1 cup serving, in boiling water for 15 mins and serve
  • Bay leaf is an ideal support medicine for those who have diabetes; use as seasoning in cooking.
  • Ginger, chamomile and peppermint tea will help reduce nausea, while the anti-inflammatory properties in ginger will reduce cramping; use ginger in cooking, as well as tea.
  • Lemon Balm tea will help to calm the nervous system and mind.
  • Blessed thistle, fennel seed, red clover and borage tea will aid in milk production for those who wish to chestfeed.
  • Red raspberry, cerasee vine leaf and nettle tea will help clear and tone the uterus, allowing for more ease with contractions and a less painful labor and help the uterus cleanse after birth. This are also useful in clearing the body after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Blue cohosh tea can stimulate contractions and can clear the uterus when combined with burdock, after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Lemon balm tea with rose, lavender, motherwort, verain, kava kava and st. john’s wort can help support someone experiencing postpartum depression; st. john’s wort is a contraindication for someone taking antidepressants and someone who is on T; for these folx, passionflower is a lovely alternative to offer.
  • Isolation is a major influencing factor on folx experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, postpartum depression; be present with the parents of the newborn – hang out, help out, ki-ki, and get on! Community is care.
  • If a sleeping baby is born, erecting an ancestor altar for them is a way for the family to continue recognizing and showing appreciation for their entrance into the parent(s) life, even if momentarily.
  • Calendula, shepherd’s purse (stops hemorrhaging), plantain leaf (all suitable for wound care), st. john’s wort and comfrey leaf ( both suitable for joint pains, external uterine massage, and in a hot, 6-weeks-postpartum bath) are key topical poultices, teas or oils to use for healing the perineum; shepherd’s purse, nettle and cerasee vine leaf teas are also key for decreasing postpartum bleeding.
  • Epazote or wormseed oil is wonderful for postpartum, full body massage on the person who just gave birth, while an olive oil infused with calendula, safflower or lavender can be ideal for maintaining the healthy vermix on baby’s newborn skin, while ensuring they can get clean. This can be combined with castile soap or black soap at 48 hours postpartum.
  • Keep sitting postures with the back straight, legs widened and on firm surfaces, to reduce back labor; if back labor occurs, having the pregnant person get on four legs and pressing in and down on the space where the tailbone is found, can assist with reducing pain
  • Dancing through birth can help reduce pain; bust a wine or work a twerk to bring baby into this world with less pain and definitely more fun
  • When baby starts to crown, if the pregnant person would like, guide their hand to their perineum to touch baby’s head, this way they can see just how close they are to meeting the new human they brought into this life!

 

Cassandra Thompson
Cassandra is a queer medicine womxn & full circle birth companion/doula, and the founder of Crystal Root & Conjure. Her writing has been published in Illustrated Impact, Briarpatch Magazine and The Peak’s Medicine Issue, along with being a regular contributor to Wear Your Voice Magazine’s ‘Healing & Magick’ column.

Amir Khadar
Amir Khadar is a non-binary West African multidisciplinary artist from Minneapolis Minnesota. For them, art is a space to rationalize their feelings as a marginalized individual, and ultimately facilitate healing from systematic oppression. Their artwork examines historical and contemporary issues facing the black community, as well as the nuances and beauty inside of being black.

Yarrow Mind Medicine

illustration of the yarrow plant

by Sharrae Lyon

           Healing from ancestral trauma is no easy feat. In fact, it’s a revolutionary act done in private, it is done in the silences of our minds, hearts, our spirit guides and our ancestors. The process  is not out on display, to be judged or critiqued. It is the pathway to stepping towards our visionary futures as it requires us to step into the spiritual realms of our deepest and oldest past, to reintegrate with the authentic power we have within ourselves to push past our illusionary limits. For many of us, our inclinations on how life works may have been met with rejection by our families, and now we have to re-parent and re-pattern what we have known to be true our whole lives. Pattern to the ancient knowledge; that life is magic, life is what you make it, life gives you gifts worthy of development and nourishment.

For many of us, we may be holding responsibilities that don’t belong to us, and avoid the ones that do. The responsibility to heal our own wounds, not our lover’s, not our father’s, not our mother’s, but our own. Because that is the one and sole responsibility that we have the most leverage and influence and that will influence the changes and visions by mere virtue of stepping deeper into our authentic expression.

Our communities have been shamed into locking off our imaginations, holding ourselves hostage within our own cells. The violence inflicted on our bodies intergenerationally has sent an invisible message across space and time that you should not dream, should not envision your destiny, because it is unsafe. Yet look at what my people managed to accomplish in the midst of collective insanity. Past patterns can change.

Do not let your inner workings surrender to that which has attempted to annihilate you.

Remember your childhood knowings. Your vision of a better Earth. Ask yourself how much deeper can you feel? Along the journey, plant medicines have been so helpful in re-integrating back into my centre.

Yarrow most recently has been such an aid in supporting my Becoming. Below here is amessage, a reminder to all of us visionaries.

With love,

Sharrae

 

Yarrow Mental Fortitude and Will- Messages from Mother Yarrow

To envision your individual and collective futures, you must feel the presence of it NOW. You will not bring in more peace and harmony if you don’t embody it within yourself. The power of mental fortitude – aligning and yoking oneself to the thoughts and visions that give you peace and propel you to step into your purpose, with your heart and courage. I will assist you.

Lesson of Patience:

Slow down. Nothing worth the while is done without the gift of falling in love with the process. My leaves steeped in tea will help you to see your own belief systems, it will connect you to your Star family. Your star origins, only if you desire to know. But if you are trying to manifest more abundance to you that is deeply centred in your authentic expression and you need some help with keeping your thoughts aligned, yarrow will be a kind friend. Reminding you that what you envision is possible. Your relationships will improve, those that no longer vibe will go.

Letting Go:

At some point the heaviness will transform into light. What aspects of Self hidden in the dark will come to light, will become integrated. The voice of critique will transmute into the voice of guidance. Keep strong. Remember nature’s way, of fall leaves gently falling. Soften and build self-compassion. Your becoming is emerging.

Say Yes to Your Becoming:

Why deny the vision of yourself that contributes greatly to your community and family? That fills you with a wellspring of joyous clarity? Let not the mental chains of another trap you, let not the colonizer’s hopes be solidified in the quiet stillness of your mind. Let go, and say yes to your brilliance. At first it may be small steps, in time towards building momentum towards the newly formed you, by You, day by day.

When you drink me allow your mind to traverse and listen closely to the courage emanating from your heart and solar plexus. Feel your presence. I will support you in remembering how to live within your body as your mind finds the path to answers to problems awaiting to gift you your treasures. Your glory. Your legacy towards an Earth that is abundant. An Earth that all are free to be. Mix in a little of my sister Lavender to calm your nervous system, especially those of you healing from intense psychological and emotional trauma. Sweeten us with honey.


 

Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a facilitator, writer, filmmaker and public speaker. Her work is grounded in  reframing mental health as transformation.

To inquire about current workshops, contact her at sharraelyon@gmail.com.

Herbal Honeys

blue illustration of two bees hovering over a honeycomb

Herbal Honeys

by Joanne Kewageshig

Honey itself is a wonderful health enhancing food! Adding herbs to honey enhances both the health benefits of honey, as well as the taste. Honey makes an excellent dressing for wounds and has been used throughout history on open wounds and ulcers on the surface of the skin. You do not need to use a herb infused honey for this. It has also been shown that honey can help soothe coughs in young children and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving honey to children to soothe coughs. By carefully selecting herbs suited to you, your child or whoever is taking the herb honey, you can enhance the benefits of taking honey.

So how do you make a herbal honey at home? It’s really simple! Before we proceed, however, a word about what kind of honey to use. A lot of commercial honey that you can purchase in stores has been pasteurised. This means it has been heated to kill bacteria. Although this may sound like a good thing, the pasteurization process also kills or removes many of the healthy, natural compounds found in honey – the good bacteria, enzymes, micronutrients and small amounts of pollen which can help alleviate allergy symptoms. To get the full health benefits of honey you want to use raw, unpasteurized honey. Also you don’t want to boil it or raise the heat too high when making syrup. If you do, you will be pasteurizing the honey and looking the health benefits. In Canada, any honey that you see in a store that says “Pasteurized” has been, well, pasteurized. If it doesn’t say pasteurized on the label then you have raw honey!

 

Recipe

Dried herbs in the pan.

Here we have White Pine (Pinus Strobus) and Cherry Bark (Prunus virginiana)

What you need:

2oz dried herbs or 3-6oz fresh herbs

4 cups water

2 cups honey

A pot

A strainer basket

Cheesecloth or other cloth to line the strainer

Coffee filter (optional)

Your imagination!

 

Directions:

Put your herb mix in a pot and cover with 3 to 4 cups of cool water. Cover with a lid and turn heat to medium low. When the water and herbs just begin to boil, you can the turn the heat down – and take the lid off- and allow it to simmer at a very low heat. Now we want to let the herb and water mixture simmer or steam very gently until about half or more of the water has boiled off.

Here the herbs and water have come to a boil. At this stage I will turn the heat down, take the lid off and allow it to gently simmer for an hour or so minutes. After simmering, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Next, strain the herbs out through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or other light material. I strain the tea a second time through a coffee filter. This ensures that you have removed all the tiny herb particles, but is not necessary if you are making syrup for your own or your family’s use. The herbs have been strained out, the tea simmered down and now to add the honey

Next, pour the tea back into a clean pot and put it on a burner over low heat. In this step you want to evaporate some of the water until you have approximately one cup of tea left. This will give you a really concentrated herbal tea. Turn off the heat and allow the tea to cool again for a few minutes. Now you can add 2 cups of honey to the tea in the pot and stir gently until the honey and tea are completely mixed together. Turn off heat and pour the honey into a jar or bottle. Melting and mixing the honey and strained tea over low heat. So now that you know how to make a syrup, what herbs should you use? That depends on what you want to use your syrup for. Herbal honey’s are great to sweeten and flavour tea. One of my favourites to use this way is a syrup made with Ginger, Cinnamon and Elecampagne.

The possibilities for herb combinations for syrups is really only limited by your imagination and what you have on hand, so go ahead and be adventurous! Elderberries (Sambucus sps) are very popular for making syrups and Elderberry Syrup is excellent to have on hand during cold and flu season. Other popular herbs for treating coughs and colds include: Mullein (Verbascum Thapsis), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Ginger (Zingiber officinalis), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus virginiana, P.serotina), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) Evergreen species and more. You can always research what herbs may be suitable for your situation or look up the individual herbs. There are different kinds of coughs, and different herbs are suited to treat each individual person and their own particular circumstances.

 


 

Joanne Kewageshig
My name is Joanne Kewageshig. I am a settler in Anishnaabe Territories and live with my husband and four children at Stoney Point First Nation, aka Aazhoodena. I have studied and worked with herbs for over 20 years, completing the Dominion Herbal College course, “Chartered Herbalist” in 2000. Our family seeks to live a traditional Anishnaabe way of life; we hunt, fish, gather and grow food and medicine and attend powwows and ceremony. We run our family herbal business- Honey Pot Herbals- from home. www.honeypotherbals.ca

Devil’s Club & Fireweed

Devil's Club with text that reads "A spiritual and medicinal plant of the pacific northwest coast indigenous peoples. photgraphed on Quw'utsun' territories by Bitty

Fireweed with text that reads "indigenous uses for fireweed: externally as medicine for burns and skin conditions. Spring roots can be used to make and anti-inflammatory poultice. Drank as tea for stomach and bronchial support. Young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw. For tea: harvest leaves around time of flowering if not eating flowers-leave for the bees!

By Bitty


Black and white mixed media photo of bitty sitting on their knees in a galactic universe. Their shirt reads "retribution will be swift"

My name is Bitty. I am two-spirit and I make art. I have maternal Coast Salish roots of Lkwungen, Quw’utsun and Lummi descent and paternal roots of mixed Irish, French and Euro ancestry. The art I contributed about Matriarch Camp is a piece I drew to fundraise to sustain camp and out of a deep respect and gratitude to Ma’amtagila grandmother Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas and the young matriarchs, warrior womxn and salmon protectors who hold the space that is Matriarch Camp.

Yerbamiel

by Melisa Prieto

Remember what you’re learning. Turmeric, lemon, ginger, honey. Make a paste with turmeric and honey, lick the spoon, twice. Feel the thickness trickle down your throat, massaging the discomfort. Water’s done. Pour it up, pour it up, add the ginger slices and let it rest for a bit. Let yourself rest. As if it were that easy. It’s been four days with bronchitis, I look at my medicine books. Some have dried herb remnants, some have fingerprints of cayenne. I am trying everything. Grab a pot, boil water. Add drops of eucalyptus, lavender, and tea tree essential oils. I clear my desk off. Bills, to the side, ‘Cien Años de Soledad’, to the side. Sticky note with a reminder to call a financial advising service, to the side.

I put the pot on a towel and stir in the oil. Oil and water move together. In my feverish haze I stare at the ripples, it smells so good. Blue, magenta, metallic yellow; oil is oil. It reminds me of the car oil I would see mixed with the rain in Bogotá. Carrying the dirt in the streets, downhill, into the alcantarilla. Never mind that; all that is far way. Sixteen years later and I’m here, still here, reconciling what home is, where home is, with bronchitis and oil.

I feel the burning of the tea tree open my bronchioles. lt tickles. I cough until my ribs hurt. I’m tired of this shit. It feels like I’ve been intentional about this grief work for two years now, and am grateful for its purpose, but I’m tired of this shit. It began as a necessity to go inwards. Alone, on my own, to sit with myself. That was year one. The digging I did in that year was painful, and I grew, read, breathed, was silent, patiently letting myself weave in and out of sickness. Learning that trauma became too comfortable in my body, and forced migration settled in my lungs. In those years, I began to study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and learnt to connect to my body using roots, herbs, and through my relationship to food. TCM teachings share that the lungs hold grief, they support the throat, and direct energy down to the intestines. I try to find the connection between loss and bronchitis. Between the grief I am holding in my body from my recent breakup and death of my paternal grandmother, all in the same week, I’m shook. I breathe into the aches in my body and the tightness in my chest as I inhale the steam from the oil-water, water-oil. Healing yourself has a way of forcing you to go back; all the way back. The abusive methods of the English language flattened my tongue, twisted my throat to close up my vowels, cut up my liver, thinned my intestines, and bruised my legs- making sure I could never go back, but couldn’t move forward. Stuck, I continued. An immigrant child, older sister, unprofessional translator, expert weight bearer.

I remember the first time my mother taught me to pick eucalyptus hats. The rough texture of wood lined with wax or hardened sap. Fragrant, brown and cone shaped, painted white on top. We used to collect them off the side of the road, after eating arepas y jugo de mora on the days she was able to pick us up from school. Bogotá traffic, sun shining, horns blaring. Everybody is trying to get home. I never really minded the traffic, it gave me more time to take in the trees that lined the streets. The bright magenta flowers arching up walls into roofs, and, most importantly, enough time to go through each grocery bag in the back seat. I grabbed a mango, perfectly ripe and warm, begging me to peel and devour it. The heat of the car slowed that moment down, as I slowly peeled the skin, and bit into its flesh . Sweet juice running down my chin. Just then, I saw my mother fling open her car door, run to the side of the road, bend down, and begin to quickly pick up small pieces from the grass into her hand. This woman, wearing brown transparent stockings, in a pencil skirt, was almost on her knees in the grass, on a busy street in Bogotá. Her child alone in the car; hands full of mango. She ran back to the car, smile wider than her face, hands full of twigs, branches, and eucalyptus hats. She threw them into the passenger seat, locked the door, and sat in silence. My home. Eucalyptus and mango.

When I was 7 years-old, I was admitted into emergency care with pneumonia. I had been fighting a nasty bronchitis for a week, before my mother rushed me to the hospital with insuficiencia respiratoria. I couldn’t breathe. I remember the nurses taking me to a room where I was instructed to put on a mask and breathe; a cold vapour quieting my cough. I was on antibiotics to fight the infection overstaying in my lungs, sticking to my throat, making my eyes too hot and my feet too cold. My mother slept in the hard chair beside my bed for a week, taking turns with my aunts during the day. After a week, the fever had gone down, but my cough had gotten worse. Nothing the doctors tried was working. My mother went to the market and got some Yerbamiel, a sweet syrup made of eucalyptus, honey, and other medicinal herbs. Secretly, she would give me a spoonful, sometimes two, when the room was empty. After a weekend of her rebellious healing with herbal medicine my cough became softer, wetter, my body started expelling the infection, and the doctors sent me home.

As I had struggled with lung infections my whole life, my mother continued to soothe my cough with this sticky sweet sap for the next two weeks, combining it with natural fruit juices in the morning, and sitting with me to drink bone broth in the afternoons. Agua y aceite para que suelte. Water and oil, so it flows. She hung a bundle of eucalyptus branches on top of my bed. She hung a bundle on the shower head, so the steam would be heavy with medicine. She calmly boiled water with a bundle, in a pot. My mother, the medicine maker, healer, birthing calm and helping me breathe. Back then, without knowing the medicinal properties of eucalyptus, I understood this pant as my ally, with great respect for the trees that lined the mountains.

Eucalyptus has supported and healed me through a recurring core health issue. Time and time again, I have come into contact with it in different forms, first as a plant in my home land, then as a support for the respiratory system in the form of syrup, and now in the form of essential oil, inhaling it as steam when I am ill. This process of reconnecting to myself and my identity in the diaspora after migration, as a settler on stolen land, is entrenzado; braided, with my process of decolonization, of rejecting the medical industrial complex and actively choosing to honour and learn to heal with plant based medicine. The medicine dispensed and sold to us by the medical industry is stolen from the medicine in plants with no respect to the connection to land, the story of the plants, or the connection to emotions in the body. My work as a healer, as an advocate of children, and my commitment to healing myself is an act of political resistance. It resists capitalism and the attempts of corrupt governments in Abya Yala and Turtle Island to continue the macabre project of colonization. Although i don’t have access to eucalyptus trees like I did in my home land, growing wild on the roadside, my reconnection to it here in Toronto bridges this diaspora gap.

Medicine making to heal myself and my loved ones is a commitment to transnational healing, crossing borders and rooting here. I recognize that working through lung infections with grief work is also root work. I am starting to understand that grief work is continuous, and dealing with grief and trauma is not limited to this lifetime. It is a strange realization to have. The trauma I carry in my body is from many women before me, as relentless violence against Indigenous, and Afro-descendent women continues in Latin America, and machismo and patriarchy takes a toll on the spirit and the body. Every time I get sick, I pay attention to the emotions stored in that part of the body, and study and spend time with the plants that will support the healing of that area.

Use what you have. Every remedy I have sought in this period of illness I already have in my home. This idea that committing to plant medicine means buying expensive products at the natural health food store is just as synthetic as the medical industrial complex itself. In my process of connecting with plants and learning my body I have understood the importance of listening to the subtle changes, the aches, the weight, and the space within the body, and getting creative with the medicine that is already around me. Part of knowing my body and my innate ability to heal myself lies in knowing that I have knowledge in my bones trapped under years of forced silence.  My struggle with my health is a path to clearing the blockages that trauma in this lifetime and past, has had en mi cuerpa; my body. It’s painful to know that because of the effects of colonization, genocide, and forced displacement, I don’t know what region or people the traditions I feel and use in my medicine come from, but in this intimate process I trust that my ancestors passed it down to me. That is my resistance.

In these two weeks of healing my body from infection, I supported my lungs with essential oil steams, soothed my throat with the medicine of honey, and nourished my intestines with bone broth to support the immune system, strengthening my intestinal flora. I used onions,carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, potatoes and chicken legs. To support the lungs energetically, I stretched every morning after waking up, some days longer than others, and breathed in a low hum that tickled the lungs. I screamed, cried, wept whenever it rose up out of me. I stretched my chest, my back, and especially made space in my ribcage with strong exhales through my throat, sometimes sticking my tongue all the way out. I wrote stories, wrote letters, and slept in as much as I could. I payed attention to what I was absorbing, stories, ideas, and news from the media and the people around me, massaged my lower abdomen with warm oils and breathed deeply during sex. I meditated on the connection between the ideas I feed my body and how they support or hinder my relationship to myself, as they enter my throat to my mouth, cushion my heart, fill my lungs, sit in my stomach, reach into my intestines, and swirl back out with my breath. I understood that this grief work and the congestion in my lungs became easier to break through when I forgave myself.


Melisa Prieto
Melisa is a Colombian born, Toronto raised, fat, queer, mestiza woman, unapologetically loving her body as political resistance. She is a Child and Youth worker, herbalist, artist and workshop facilitator on conversations of sex and pleasure.