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.

Shovel to Fork: Organic Farming

By Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte

There is no doubt that eating a natural and pesticide-free meal three times a day is a healthier option than devouring that juicy one-dollar Big Mac from McDonald’s. While I myself grew up with healthy options available to me, the discussion around organic agriculture and cuisine became a passion of mine when my daughter was born. I did my research on which products were from organic sources by the stickers they bore or the companies they came from; I spent countless hours blending sweet potatoes or plums into an edible mush simply because I knew what chemicals were put into them. While making my daughter’s food in bulk seemed to save money, the fact of the matter was that spending an extra five dollars on a box of strawberries was drastically outside my budget as a new mother. I needed a new solution that would meet the needs of my daughter, my values and my pocket book. With the help my father who has a particularly green thumb (not literally), we started our own organic garden from heirloom seeds and trusted plant nurseries. We grew vegetables, herbs and an ever-blooming source of strawberries—many of which were put in the freezer to use over the winter months. Not only was this more affordable and sustainable, but it was grounding, beautiful and filled with all sorts of healthy connections that extended outside of just our nutritional health. The food tasted better too. It tastes real.

Granted, there are now more grocery stores and food supplement locations that are opting to include an increase in organic products for their customers, their prices continue to fall outside the budget of many low to mid income families. Organic gardening and organic farming can be a more sustainable and cost-efficient option for healthy food security. Community-wide organic farming can also create the opportunity to build relationships with the land and our culture as well.

How does organic farming build relationships to the culture? It starts at the beginning of life. It starts by honouring the natural world and our own bodies through ways we work with the land (not just on it). The land teaches us about ourselves through the investment we make to maintain our gardens. This relationship to the process then reflects our relationships to others. Like other healthy relationships, a good relationship with our gardens starts with care, patience and a drive to be understanding. We made sure certain plants received partial sun and that others received full sun. We are aware of companion planting and can determine which plants empower each other to grow and which ones could not function together. To protect our little seedlings, we plant certain flowers and herbs around our gardens that naturally warded off animals and insects and we continue to prune, weed and water them as they grow. We put a lot of our selves into our food and medicines. Sounds a lot like building a community doesn’t it? Our ancestors knew a lot about the land and how to care for it as a community; the land in turn knew how to care for us as well. It was a relationship between entities and not an entitlement to humankind. There was gratification and thankfulness throughout the process and past the harvesting season. For myself, there is that same gratitude from shovel to fork, knowing that our spaghetti sauce was made from home-grown tomatoes or that our salad was tossed with cucumbers and lettuce picked by our children.

 

The most satisfying aspect of it all was seeing my daughter, as a two year old, pick out the wild garlic or the pole beans and know that it was for food and for medicine. She loved them; she really did. I was and am proud to see her develop a strong and ancestral relationship to the land through holistic health. In this way, organic Farming can be cultural security as well. Organic farming has potential be the start of a community-wide reconnection to the land. In building a relationship to the land we are building a relationship to ourselves; our identity (from ceremonies to the ohenton kariwatekwen) is tied directly to land. In many ways, we are the land. This connection is not only essential to our identity; it expands to influence all other aspects of our indigeneity as well.

I believe, that in order to truly fight for our identity or even to negotiate land claims, we (and the generations to follow) need reconnect to our bodies in a real way. In reality, how can we hope to fight for land claims if we have never touched the land?

Organic farming can be a way to not only increase food security and address our major health concerns (diabetes in particular), but it can give our community a large-scale opportunity to live our identity rather than label it. I see it as community-wide healing, restructuring, and grounding. Granted, organic farming can be a time-consuming investment that may not fit into the lives, deadlines and obligations of everyone. But maybe taking that time to slow down is exactly what we need to stop moving so fast and learn to look again through the eyes of our ancestors.


 

Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte
Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte is a young mother, artist, art educator, and art therapist candidate from the Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation community. She is currently completing a MA at Concordia University in Art Therapy, with focus on healing multigenerational trauma and attachment through visual media. Outside of her schooling, Megan is actively involved with the Kahnawake Youth Forum, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the Indigenous Young Women’s National Advisory Board providing an arts-based approach to social change. Her main project, Skatne Ionkwatehiahrontie, is a young parents program that aims to support attachment parenting, explore sexual health and connect youth to cultural networks. Megan’s social work in these spaces also inspire her artistic development, having her art pieces reflect concepts of healthy relationships, indigenous ‘womanism’, as well as environmental, reproductive, and social justice.

The Beauty of Indigenous Resistance Across Lands & Oceans

by Tunchai Redvers 

I grew up North of the 60th parallel, raised across Treaty 8 territory in what is known as the Northwest Territories, or Denendeh. As a young Dene/Metis girl, my definition of home, much like my nomadic ancestors, was relative to my current location. Whether it was my maternal First Nation, my family’s small cabin along the river, the predominantly settler hub-town I spent my younger years, or the capital city I spent my high-school years. The relative feeling of “home”, although limited to the sub-Arctic bubble I lived in, bred a fierce curiosity in me that transcended the North. Through my fascination of global studies and current events, the scope of my dreams widened, spanning across places and landscapes that appeared so foreign and distant to my reality. Come junior high I was restless with the dream of leaving the North in pursuit of international travel and social justice.

Blossom by Kaya Joan

So, I worked hard to make my dream come true. I studied, volunteered, researched, and worked part-time throughout my four years of high-school, and before I even graduated, I was able to go on two separate trips to Peru and Bolivia. “Home” continued to grow in relativity and my nomadic blood pulsed with the anticipation of finding out where I was going to end up next. And within the next five years, this ended up being Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, and India.

Along journeys, I was able to meet many different people and fellow travellers, and I was also quickly able to discern my travel experiences from the experiences of the others I met. Unlike most other travellers I met, I was Indigenous, and although not Indigenous to the lands I was trekking, I could identify and relate my Indigeneity to the contexts I found myself in. These countries I visited all have long and complex histories of colonial rule, war, and trauma, which I was able to connect to and empathize with due to similar colonial history and traumas within my blood and ancestral land. With a shared blood connection to colonial history, my travels carried with them heightened awareness and compassion for the ongoing struggle and resistance I witnessed from Indigenous peoples and communities in their own ancestral lands. Unlike many other travellers, I couldn’t snap photos of beautiful waterfalls, animals, landscapes and sunsets without also acknowledging the struggle and resistance of Indigenous populations. To do so would be to deny my own blood memory and the inherent struggle of my own people to fight for, protect, and honour the sacred land my feet grew rooted in. If anything, though, the recognition of survival and resistance of the lands I travelled through made the journey – the landscapes I was privileged to see and experience – that much more beautiful.

No matter the region in the world, there is a native connection to land, and with that, the spirit, traditions, teachings, culture, and language grown from that land. Our very existence as Indigenous peoples, whether nomads, hunters, gatherers, fishers, growers – whether in the arctic, mountains, coast, or rainforest, stems from and is dependent on our connection to that land. We are the land. And therefore, will do everything we can to protect that land and thus our spirit, culture and language. As a visitor passing through and across colonial borders, being witness to the degrees of resistance from groups native to their lands, was at times devastating, but mostly inspiring. Despite colonial attempts to remove – directly and indirectly – people from their land, the will and hope of groups to survive colonial genocide and hold onto their existence is profound. In the face of death, threat and struggle, is resilience, courage, love and generosity deeper than words can express.

Although diverse and breathtaking sites, landscapes, terrains, climate, and natural life draw visitors and tourists from around the world, the real beauty is in the people who continue to fight for and connect with their ancestral homelands. Indigenous and tribal people are resisting colonial and oppressive forces across the globe by speaking their languages, practicing traditions, guarding sacred sites and waters, and continuing to live off the land. Despite trauma, threat, genocide, environmental disaster, and tourist influence, Indigenous people welcome, love, smile, laugh and live. Just like the changing and threatened lands they occupy, they remain resilient and hopeful. Land is beauty, but it is the resistance which keeps that beauty alive. 

heels tread terrain so rich, soul nourishes

walking on history, untapped veins feeling stories

of the ones who roamed, live, free in language

and ability to hold mountains with worn hands even through monsoons

I am grateful to touch this terrain


 

Tunchai Redvers
Tunchai Redvers is a Dene/Metis 2Spirit social justice warrior, writer and wanderer born from Denendeh roots in what is now the Northwest Territories. Through her writing, work, studies, and being, she actively works to normalize and decolonize discussions on hardship, hope and healing, and indigenize mental health, identity and self-love. She is the the co-founder of We Matter, a national non-profit organization committed to Indigenous youth empowerment, hope and life promotion.

Gitche Namewikwedong

Reconciliation Garden

By Susan Staves

“Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal people’s education, cultures and languages, health, child welfare, administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity.”

What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation, Principles of Reconciliation #4 (1.)

Essential to our way of life, is the connection we have with the land (Aki), known as Turtle Island.

The land is where our Ancestors are buried; their spirits protect and care for Aki. Our way of life is based in spirituality, plant-based medicine, dance,music and art, and a belief that we are all a part of creation, nurtured by the gifts of Mother Earth who is a powerful healer and Mother to all our Relations. The Gitche Namewikwedong(2) Reconciliation Garden Project Committee was established in 2010, with the view of building a permanent healing and reconciliation garden that recognizes and celebrates the Indigenous history that exists at the City of Owen Sound’s Kelso Beach Park.

1.http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf

2. Gitche Namewikwedong means: Great Sturgeon Bay, which was the name of the bay before contact

Since 2010, the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Project Committee has worked with the City of Owen Sound, as well as Indigenous and mainstream stakeholders, to develop a detailed plan for an art and historical installation in an Indigenous garden at Kelso Beach Park, formerly and historically the site of the original Newash Village. To date, there is no visible acknowledgement indicating the existence of a historical Saugeen Ojibwa Nation’s village on the land, anywhere in Kelso Beach Park.

The Saugeen Ojibwa Nation (SON) territory is the home of the Anishinabek, understood as “the original people”. Our language is Anishinaabemowin. We are part of the three fires confederacy located in the Great Lakes area, which consisted of the Ojibway or Chippewa, “Keepers of the Faith”, the Odawa or Ottawa, “Keepers of Trade”, the Bodewadmi or Potawatomi “Keepers of the Fire”.

SON territory extends from the Nottawasaga River across to Goderich, including the Maitland Valley river system, and north to Tobermorey. Our territory also includes all of the fishing islands and the waters surrounding our territory.

The Garden will help all cultures within our community move forward with shared understanding and respect, humility and love in our hearts; it will help all to walk softly and be ever mindful. The art pieces will share Indigenous culture and healing practices. The Sturgeon Installation brings with it the 7 dodem teachings and family names. The indigenous plants in the gardens will tell stories and legends of the history of the location. The project will reclaim place, culture, ecology and wellness. Several interpreter plaques will be placed to educate, inspire and encourage further research by visitors.

To develop this project, we have engaged community organizations, Elders from two reserves and two Métis communities who are knowledge holders in our region, using their input and cultural knowledge. We are proud to acknowledge and celebrate the history and culture of the First Nations and Métis peoples of the Grey Bruce area.

Our goal is to provide ongoing opportunity for healing historic trauma for all Nations. Through the development of a Memorial Garden, pain can be remembered, mourned, and transformed making possible a new way for healing and reconciling. In the Spirit of Reconciliation, the garden will be a contemplative place where our community can pause, reflect and remember, learn about the past legacy of residential school and the intergenerational trauma that still exists today.

The project will be sited on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibwa Nation, very close to the original Nawash Village. The project will help our community move forward with shared understanding and respect, humility and love in our hearts, walk softly and be ever mindful.

The goals of the project are to acknowledge our first peoples’ presence, on this traditional territory, in the past, present and future; to reclaim place, culture, ecology, and wellness; and to educate all nations about the legacy of residential schools, and help build better relationships through reconciliation.

Our goals will help address the healing needs of Aboriginal people affected by the legacy of the residential school system, including intergenerational impacts.

Our hope is that all nations will honour the cultural and spiritual teachings. Together we will walk the sacred path of truth and honour and build a better future, walking in a sacred way. What we do today, is for future generations. Through traditional stories, and Indigenous plantings we will honour and remember our First Nations and Métis Ancestors. With open and friendly dialogue, we strive for mutual understanding, balance, and unity for the people of our community so that we may move forward together, in a good way, and with one heart.

Having the history of local First Nations made public and accessible in the garden, will help establish common ground and start conversations: a place for people of all nations to gather at culturally significant times of the year. We will make the current “invisible” presence and History of Indigenous people “visible” to people walking through the Garden.

Increasing the awareness and respect for long ignored history, culture and traditions of our local Indigenous peoples will help our community address continued racism and colonialism. We will pray together in the garden, once finished. We expect ceremonies such as weddings, baptism, church and vacation bible schools to be held in the garden, public events and celebrations such as Aboriginal Day, solstice and equinox. Furthermore, schools and children can visit and experience local history, traditional language, and art—developing new relationships and understanding, which celebrates healing and reconciliation within our communities. The Garden is a place to reflect, to sit with Grandfather and Grandmother Stones, to enjoy Indigenous sacred plants and trees, and to inspire a deeper understanding of our community. The Garden will encourage conversations about the residential school legacy, the intergenerational impacts that are felt today, racism and discrimination. We will learn and promote healthy ways to live.

The Garden was dedicated July 1st 2017, as part of Owen Sound’s Festival Canadian “Maawanji’iding” (The Gathering).

The Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Committee is proud to offer you a wonderful opportunity to sponsor our Reconciliation Garden. Your contribution will be tax deductible.

Please help us reach our goal by making a direct contribution at www.canadahelps.org/dn/31161

or if you wish, send a cheque with a note Re: Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden to:

Francesca Dobbyn

United Way Bruce Grey

380 9th Street East Owen Sound

N4K 1P1

Chii Miigwech!

Thank you for your Support!


Susan Staves
Susan Staves is the Chair of the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Committee. Susan was born in Meaford Ontario and currently works for the Métis Nation of Ontario/Great Lakes Métis Council in Owen Sound. She is the proud mother of four children, 8 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Susan is a member of Chippewas of Nawash at Neyaashiinigmiing and is part of the Ontario 60 Scoop Legacy. In 2009 Susan received the Ontario Heritage Trust Community Recognition Award for cultural heritage in recognition of her work in preserving and promoting aboriginal local History. Seven years ago, at an Ancestor Ceremony at the memorial site of her grandmother, Susan had the great honor of receiving the name of her aboriginal ancestor Nahnebahwequa Standing Upright Woman.

Porphyry Deer

sculpted deer with painted stain glass hanging on the wall

by Michel Dumont 

There is a history of light keepers marrying Ojibway women on Porphyry Island from the second light keepers family in the 1890s to the last family to man the light in the 1980s my aunt and uncle Eva and Gordon Graham. This deer was my attempt to honour this legacy of interdependence and love. I pictured my aunt and her beautiful thick black hair which she always kept in a flowing pony, holding the medicine wheel, while my uncle is holding a lantern. In the hundred years of indigenous women their roles as home makers and on this island that took a different meaning. Originally they lived on the island all year round, gave birth and buried their children there, which is why the cemetery exists on the island. My aunt was renowned for her bread baking. Visitors to the island still  remark on her pastries to this day. What changed in one hundred years was that she was considered an assistant lighthouse keeper to her husband. As a child, I  grew up going to the light houses of Lake Superior with my aunt and uncle and this piece was made during a light house artist residence I did last summer for the Canadian Light houses of Lake Superior.

My name is Michel Dumont  i am a metis artist from Thunderbay Ontario . i recently made a peice of fauxtaxidermy entitled Zaangwewe-magooday

Waawaashkeshi . Jingle dress deer it is to honor the ojibway women in my family . the jingle dress appeared in the 1920s in minnesota and the rainy river canadian area almost simultainiously, i would love to think it was two sisters making jingle dresses at the same time one just married into another family.

Rebuilding our Relationship with the land

Indigenous eagle storytelling artwork that reads "learn from the past, prepare in the present, to defend the future."

By: Beze and Vanessa Gray

Our homeland is more than the reservation system forced onto my ancestors across our traditional territory. Land is sacred, and this is especially important to acknowledge when multinational companies carelessly contaminate the environment we all share through colonialism and toxic chemicals. Our family and community are Anishinabe people from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Treaty 29 territory located near Sarnia, ON. The Canadian government continues to use violence to inherently disconnect us from our land and it’s our responsibility to protect it using our traditional culture and language. Our culture and language survive through land based teachings.

Our teachings offer lessons of honesty, humility, and truth that connect our bodies to the land.  We take what we need and offer tobacco to give back to the land to acknowledge when we take anything and to give thanks. Canada is established through resource extraction and land theft. When industry forced their way onto our territory to extract oil in the 1880s, the land was stolen through Canada’s Indian Act system that segregates us on reserve lands. Colonization takes on many destructive forms and acts like a virus endlessly taking from mother earth. Industry created an empire from our stolen land. Instead of using oil as we did once, oil quickly became the foundation of Canada’s national identity. The petrochemical industry on our Territory expanded and changed the relationship between our people and the land. These threats to our traditions and culture immediately created the apartheid state between settlers and indigenous people. This is clearly visible when the City of Sarnia enacts class violence through Victorian houses just down the road from our reserve that we were not allowed to leave from. The Canadian Justice system was created to protect colonial capitalism and white supremacy. The present day reserve boundaries of Aamjiwnaang are substantially smaller than our original territory. Our homeland is seen as an industrial resource, not a residential place where more than 800 people currently live. This racist notion is how companies justify putting an above ground pipelines so close to our homes.

Aamjiwnaang is completely surrounded by industry with over 60 facilities in the 25km radius. The highest polluting facilities are within 5km of the community. The first company to start operating a refinery was Imperial Oil. Canada’s Chemical Valley currently holds 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry [1]. Accumulating pollution has been collecting and contaminating Aamjiwnaang for over 100 years. In our community everything is polluted, including the land, air, water, and people. We are the grandchildren of the generation who survived Canada’s attempted genocide. Our responsibility to the land is carried on from the strength of our intergenerational knowledge. Even when we grow up surrounded by industry, we will always find our way back to the land through our songs, drums and ceremony. The warning signs found along the creek in Aamjiwnaang were put up to keep us from exposing ourselves from the toxic chemicals that flow from industry into the water. Even though Canada tries to forget its violent history, we still experience the cumulative effects such as cancer and high numbers of stillbirths and miscarriages. There’s a constant stress of the emergency sirens of the community going off from spills or leaks.

Not only do we worry about our health and safety on the daily, but our medicines are exposed to the chemicals in the air. Healing is the most important part of our survival as land and water protectors. We need time on the land to rebuild and sustain our relationship with the land. This includes our seasonal responsibilities such as collecting food and medicines. Our Wiigwams teach us that we all have a role to play in sustaining our communities. In a time when everything can be made easier by new technologies, the land will always provide for our needs. Our traditional dip net fishing is made from cedar trees because it’s the lightest to carry and can last for generations, you can buy a metal net that can last with care but is more likely crushed or bent easily if left in the river. Our load isn’t a light one to carry, we pick up where our ancestors left us to move forward and hopefully thrive. The land is alive and deserves to be honored with ceremony.


 

Beze and VANESSA Gray
Vanessa Gray and Beze Gray are Anishinaabe siblings from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation located in Canada’s Chemical Valley. Co-founders of Aamjiwnaang & Sarina Against Pipelines.

Vanessa is a land defender and environmental justice researcher with the TRU at the University of Toronto.

Beze identifies as two spirited and studies Anishinaabe mowin and traditional land use with Meesiingw.

Silhouette: A Letter to Syria

silhoutte of women in a stone doorway facing a landscape view of a syrian city

by Yousr El Sharawy

A silhouette it is.

 This is how we see each other now. Far. Very far, as I stand at the top of the citadel, armed with egoistic prejudices. & afraid to let go – to fall down – in love. I used to have a clearer picture before. Now, to each other: we are solely silhouettes.

 You are very far now. & the distance between us is a traveler’s journey that I read about in poetry books. Traveling all the way to you is worth it, but I am afraid. I currently dwell in my comfort zone. And reaching you could be so uncomfortable, O Syria. To dismantle all the typical measures of travel, and to walk all the way to you is indeed difficult.

To bare the rich nuances and the complex intersections that exist on the way to you may indeed lead to my arrival. But who wants to leave their comfort zones now, my dear Syria? What heart bears the heaviness of truths?

Deep down, I know you are worth the journey. I just cannot see that now. You are a silhouette. A silhouette described in the books of authors who may have never seen you before, nor have they seen your blood.

How can I believe that which I cannot see? & how can I see you in the dark? & how can I see that which is far: very far away! O Syria, you are very far away now. And the distance exacerbated with all the obstacles built between you and me.

Between you and I are refugees of love. Diaspora out of a war that spilled blood in between the rocks of the citadel, reaching to the far corners of the city.

Between you and I are strangers from ancients travels who want to colonize our hearts. And now they colonize our minds too, in the writers of Cairo, the readers of Iraq, the publishers of Lebanon, & the roads of Jerusalem. All of us know no resistance. 

All they preach is co-existence, and to get over the past. Because the past has passed. If only they knew, it only passed for them.

Between you and I, are these different countries inside of us. & the different sects that are fighting for our hearts. We are torn between different cultures, languages and traditions.  Even though they seem like one, we speak a different language now. And I don’t mean the vocabulary of the mother tongue – I mean the language of resistance, rights and freedom.

Where are we now from all of that? The composer of your music is everyone but you.

Despite being a silhouette, I can tell you are trying to see me in the crowd of seekers.

O Syria, if you can, just divorce all their proposals you get from the East and the West.

And solely seek refuge in me. If they change your geography, my heart can be your home & you can always live in my heart. & that, my dear, they cannot change. Ever.

I will remind you of the smell of mint leaves in your sidewalks and the fresh aroma of basil trees in the gardens of your family. The sprinkled thyme on the oven-cooked bread infused with the smell of white Jasmine flowers from my grandma’s balcony.

& bedtime stories will be about war and love – the stories that refugees brought to my expatiation.Stories that keeps us aware of the sufferings of this world, but also ones that I will turn into songs to put you into a warm goodnight sleep in my arms.

I will show you pictures of your mountains, your churches up the hills & the citadels built over the graves of your martyrs. I will show you the mosques in Damascus, the norias of Hama, the markets of Homs, & the protestors of Aleppo.

But there still remains that distance between you and me. And between all that which I would like to do. Between you and I, is a very long distance – O Syria. Even if they grant me a passport that brings close the proximity of geography, the greatest distance to travel will always the one from my heart to yours.

Yousr El Sharawy
I am a graduate student of Political Science & International Development at the University of Guelph. My own identity took me to research pursuits revolving around social justice. I enjoy travelling, writing & the outdoors.

Our Lives Depend on Our Relatives

By Linda Black Elk

The seventh annual Florida Herbal Conference was hosted February 2018 in unceded Timucua territory on the ancient Lake Wales Ridge in Central Florida, with keynote speakers Linda and Luke Black Elk. With a focus on the healing flora of Florida, our conference seeks to not only educate but to advocate for the conservation and preservation of our bioregional ecology. Together, we gather to begin the process of healing ourselves and each other as we also heal the planet. Videos of Linda and Luke’s presentations can be found at www.floridaherbalconference.org.

Thank you all for being here tonight,

I’m Linda Black Elk, you’ll see my family here tonight and I’m really thankful for that. You know? I was never taught to look at plants as a source of food or even really sources of medicine. As an indigenous person I was taught to look at plants as my friends, as my allies, as my relatives. I think probably because of that I actually have a gift for connecting people with plants. I can meet someone and get to know them a little bit and I can visualize a particular plant that I know would provide some healing for them. Whether it’s emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. It’s a really cool gift to have. Sometimes I’ll leave and i’ll have a dream or a vision about a person or a plant and I know i’m suppose to connect those two spirits together for some greater good. I’ve always been really thankful for that and I know i’ve done a pretty good job of being that advocate. So, it didn’t surprise me when a friend of mine, that i’ve helped quite a bit with connecting her with a plant that’s helped her a lot, came to me and said “you know what? You should totally start a herbal Tinder app. You should get people to upload profiles that tell about themselves and then you can hook them up with a plant”. All I could picture is people looking at their phone like “ouuu enchanter’s nightshade… swipe right” or “skunk cabbage… swipe left” (laughs). 

It sounded really silly to me but it got me to thinking about that fact that the relationships we have with human beings are actually really similar to the relationships we have with plants or the relationships we TRY to have with plants. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to anthropomorphize. I do not believe that plants have to have human qualities in order for us to consider them sacred or in order for us to consider them sentient. But if you think about it a lot of the strategies that we employ in healthy human to human relationships are probably the same strategies that we are employing to build relationships with our plant relatives. You want to be a good communicator when you’re working with plants or people, right? You want to be respective, you want to compromise. If a plant doesn’t want you to pull it up by their roots, you don’t pull it up by their roots; you figure out another way. Right? You apologize when you do something wrong. You give space and make each other feel safe. And you trust each other.

I can’t think of a better way to exemplify these ideas of relationship building and thinking of plants as our relatives then by telling you some of my absolute favourite plant stories. These are traditional stories of multiple indigenous groups, the Lakota, the Catawba, the Duka all sorts of nations, about relationships between human beings and their plant relatives that have been built up and then built upon over thousands of years. These are stories that are really important to me so it’s important to me to share them. It’s also really important for you to take them in a good way because i want you to see the incredible benefits of building a supporting, loving, caring relationships with our plant relatives. And I want you to take action, I want you to stand up for these plant relatives just as you do your human relatives. I want you to defend them. Above all, I hope these stories will help you to see the consequences of what happens when we neglect our relationships. I want you to see the consequences of that because our lives really do depend on our relatives, whether they are human or plants, and they depend on us too.

The first story is about the buffaloberry. If you’ve ever tried the argentia buffaloberry you’d know that it is like nothing else you have ever tried. The reason why not many people have tried it, is because this only grows in a particular area of the northern great plains. So that’s North Dakota, South Dakota, a little bit in Wyoming and Montana and that’s pretty much it. It should be on your bucket list to try a buffaloberry at least once in your life! They are insanely delicious. It’s indescribable. They have this fresh berry flavor and it’s amazing. But they’re also a little tricky to harvest. There are short thorn-like spurs all over the plant protecting the berries. So when you go to harvest them it protects itself. It might be saying “don’t take too many of me” or “okay i’m sacrificing for you? you’re gonna sacrifice a little too”. I remember this elder telling me this story of when he six years old. The first time he had a slice of buffaloberry pie, that his sister had made. He said he obsessed over it. He said he literally waited an entire year until he was 7 years old and he went to his sister and he said “I want buffaloberry pie!” Right at the season when they’re ready. The prime time to harvest them is actually after the first frost, you want it to freeze a little bit and for the sugars to condense. Before that first frost they’re a little too tarty but after the first frost they are sweet and delicious.

So he waited that whole time and remembered the whole year where they were and she told him “you know, it’s really tough to get enough buffaloberry to make a pie!” She said, “But if you go out and you fill this milk jug with enough buffaloberry, i’ll make a pie for you!” So, he went out and 6 hours later, he had filled the jug and he came back in with these scrapes and bloody wounds all over his tiny little 7 year old hands. He said it was all worth it! She made the most amazing pie! So, two days later when two elders came to his door and asked him to help them pick buffaloberry, he was torn. They had 5 gallon buckets with them. They said “we’ll make pie, if you help us come pick buffaloberry!” He was hesitant but said alright. So he went out with them to pick buffaloberry, trying his hardest not to hit those thorns because his hands hadn’t even healed yet. But then one of the elderly women did something a little weird. She took a bedsheet and she spreaded it out under the buffaloberry shrub and she got a broom out of her car and she just went *wack* on the buffaloberry bush. Then 5 gallons of buffaloberry fell onto the sheet in about 60 seconds. He just stood there and he couldn’t even be happy! He was pissed off! He said he went home and got really mad at his sister and told her “now you’re making a pie with these berries, because you never told me!” So, it’s what we learn, right? When we get to know our plant relatives they tell us these kinds of things. Like the best ways to harvest them for the benefit of both of us, they let us know this stuff.

 

Another one my favourite plant stories is something that I think is just amazing. Many years ago, an elder told me that when you pick sand cherries (Prunus pumila or aunyeyapi in the lakota language) you have to approach them from downwind.  Otherwise, they’ll smell you and they’ll turn bitter. I kind of giggled about it. I was trained as a western scientist so I was always like, oh okay, they “smell” me. For many years, I wondered why some of the sand cherries i was picking were sweet and some were bitter. It always bugged me. What the elders said rang in the back of my head, because they know. They have built these relationships over thousands of years through this data that’s been passed down from our ancestors, getting to know these plants getting to know the land so perfectly and so intimately. And I was a fool to just sort of laugh off what they told me, but I was young. So, we did some research and we found that sand cherries actually have breathing pores (stomata) that open up and close and they do indeed pick up on our pheromones to protect themselves from humans and the deer eating too many of them. They pick up on our pheromones and produce bitter alkaloids when they smell us coming. Right? Plants are smart and elders are smart. They are intelligent! If i had learned to respect my relatives, get to know them better and understand the experience of my elders, I would have saved myself a lot of bitter sand cherries.

So, this is Timpsila, in english some people call it breadroot, breadroot skurvpe, indian turnip or indian prarier. I’ve heard it called a lot of things. This is probably one of the most important foods of great plains people. It’s a complex carbohydrate and absolutely delicious. I’ve always thought that turnip was a weird name for it because they don’t taste like turnip. They do have that earthy, sort of root flavour but the texture is totally different. They have a meaty texture and is able to pick up that buffalo broth (or vegetable broth) when you cook them. I always tell my students that if we could stop eating those white foods, (the colour of the food not food brought by white people, but those too!)– If we stopped eating things like potatoes, rice and pasta and replaced it with these, we would really save ourselves a lot of the diabetes epidemic because this is really a carbohydrate. It fills you up, it burns slow and is also really delicious.

Through a long time of really getting to know this plant and talking to people and community members, when you harvest timpsila you stick the shovel in the ground, pop the shovel up and the root will pop up with the plant still attached. So you pull the root off of the plant and you always stick the plant without the root back into the ground standing up. You leave them standing up because the seeds, even after taking the root off, will still mature. The plant will dry up, roll away and they’ll disperse the seeds later. Over thousands of years of our relatives getting to know this plant, they’ve listened to this plant about the best ways to harvest it. In order to make sure that we are helping perpetuate these populations.

Additionally, these are chokecherries, the traditional way to harvest chokecherries is to harvest them and then mash them with a stone, pit and all. The pits contain really important fido-nutrients, proteins and complex carbohydrates. In fact, elders will tell you that it is really important to eat the pit because that is where the medicine is. A traditional chokecherry dish is chokecherry patties, where we’ve taken our chokecherries put them into a hamburger patty and let them dry in the sun. Later on we reconstitute those patties add a bit of water and that’s chokecherry pudding. We call it wojabi.

I can see some of you getting a bit uncomfortable because we know that chokecherry pits contain cyanide. We actually did some research and found that one chokecherry patty would be enough to kill a 250Ibs man. So how is it that we have turned this into absolutely one of the most vital food sources that we ate today? What happens is, during the crushing and drying process, we are actually breaking the bond between the cyanide and the carbohydrate that it’s attached to. As it dries, the cyanide dissipates as a gas, so you’re only left with all of the nutrition. It’s native science. That is something that we have come to learn and understand over thousands of years of developing these relationships with these plants. I always hate when people try to reduce indigenous knowledge to trial and error. It’s so much more than that; it’s not trial and error. We are scientists. We are the original scientists. We experiment, we learn and we observe over thousands of years with this relationship with our relatives.

This next plant is one of my favourite plants, lavender hyssop. It helps us develop loving relationships. When people want to kiss their sweetheart or develop those relationships, they’ll chew on these leaves to freshen their breath. This is  the first breath fresheners. It taste like black licorice. It’s so good! We love it. The Lakota name is “wahpe’ yata’pi” which actually means “the leaf that you chew.” My grandmother told me this story: she had been dating my grandfather for a long time and had decided she was ready to kiss him. That was a big step back in the day. She didn’t want to seem too forward, you know? But she wanted to make sure she was ready. So she stuck some wahpe’ yata’pi in her purse and when they went on their date she chewed some of it. After a while, he kissed her and left a big smooch on her. She reacted with a gasp and said “how dare you!” and he responded “psshh i smelt that wahpe’ yata’pi on your breath! I knew what was going on.” So this is a plant we’ve gotten to know because it brings people together.

Above: Sweetgrass, Hierochloe odorata

Next is sweetgrass, one of my favourites. It has actually taught us how it loves to be harvested. So many plants, I have to tell my students do not pull that plant up by the roots, if you leave the roots in the ground it will actually send up new plants for the next year. Sweetgrass isn’t like that. When you harvest sweetgrass you actually do want to pull it up by their roots to help thin it out. Sweetgrass is a ceremonial plant. Up until i was four years old our spiritual practices and religion were illegal and we were not allowed to grow any of our native ceremonial plants. We found that in the areas that we were unable to plant sweetgrass, they choked themselves out. They died because there was no one to thin their roots for them. It always hurts me to talk about that because i always think, gosh, i had a responsibility that i was unable to fill.

I remember an elder, Helmina Makes Him First, telling me that she remembers when she was little riding on Standing Rock and taking her horse and carriage. They loaded it up and rode it all the way from Little Eagle, South Dakota (the southern side of the reservation) all the way to where Cannonball and the Missouri river meets. So, the place where the Dakota Access Pipeline camps were set up has always been a very important gathering place for native people. A place where we would go to harvest plants and get to know these plants. Helmina said she remembers being so young and riding in a horse and buggy all the way up to Cannonball and camping there with 5 or 6 other families. They would spend days, eating singing and laughing together around fires, all harvesting sweetgrass from the sweetgrass beds there. In the 1950’s and 60’s through something called the Pick Sloan project, they built a series of dams all along the Missouri River that drowned all the sweetgrass in those areas. I remember Helmina telling me that back when she was little, they would go there and they’d harvest all of the sweetgrass, putting them in bundles so lovingly. Once they were packed in the back of the carriage, she remembers riding back in beds of sweetgrass and smelling it all the way home. When they got home, they spent weeks braiding sweetgrass and hanging it all throughout the house and to share with the community. She said that for months the house smelt like sweetgrass. They would sing songs and certain prayers to the sweetgrass. It’s always really difficult for me to talk about this because my kids will never know what that’s like. Because of the Pick–Sloan Program my kids do not sing those songs and they don’t know the prayers. We have nowhere to harvest sweetgrass on Standing Rock. I have nowhere to take them to do that. They  have no idea what it’s like to have those braids hanging through the house for months and smelling the sweetgrass. To them, sweetgrass is something we have to buy in a store and braids from people. These are the kind of relationships that we’ve built with these plants– even because of things that are not our fault, we have still neglected our relationship with these plants, and that harms usNot just because we don’t have access to that plant but because we no longer have that relationship.

I guess i do have a few favourite plants, this is one of them. I’ve heard it called “hog peanut”; we call it “mouse bean” in English and in Lakota we call it Makhatomnica which means “earth bean.” That’s because it develops two kinds of beans. There are these little small unpalatable pods above ground on the plant but then below ground it actually develops these beans. Some of the pods will twist their way into the ground to develop below ground and they grow to be delicious, meaty and larger than lima beans.. It actually has more protein than any other legume in existence. These large beans are a really important food source for two organisms. The first organism is the meadow mouse, who will tunnel into the ground to collect beans from the plant and then cache them in these grapefruit-sized caches all throughout the cottonwood forest. (Those same cottonwood forest were adjacent to where the sweetgrass once grew. These forests no longer exist, again because of the Pick-Sloan program.) The caches would sit on the surface of the soil and are difficult to see if you don’t have project.

Before the 50’s and 60’s, this bean was also one of the most important food sources for the Lakota, Dakota people and all the people along the river. A lot of the elders and women that I worked with remember the time when they were little before the Pick-Sloan program made this plant go locally extinct. They would walk with their grandmother(s?) through those cottonwood forests, which were so thick the path was like a tunnel.They would watch their grandmother, she carried a stick, she would be able to stick her stick into the cache, move it around a tiny bit without disturbing it and know exactly what bean was inside. Can you image getting to know these things that well? So, after finding one with mouse beans, they didn’t dig into the ground. These beans are difficult to harvest. They let the mice do the work for them. They would remove the top of the cache and take some or all of the beans. Then, they’d reach into a pouch on their waist and replace the beans with berries, animal fats or dried corn. As they walked behind their grandmothers, they remembered their grandmothers singing to the mice. The song was so beautiful it would echo off the cottonwood canopy. They’d sing to the mice saying thank you. Thank you for harvesting this amazing food for my children and I promise you that I will not let your children go hungry. They recognized that reciprocal relationship. Everyone thinks of the Lakotas and Dakotas as these great hunters of the mighty buffalo and having this relationship with the buffalo and that’s true! But they also had relationship with the tiny little meadow mice as well. My children will never know this experience or hear their grandmothers’ songs to the mice because these relationships have been broken.

Something I remind myself is that just like human relationships can mend, these relationships that we have with the plants and these stories can continue. My kids may have missed out but my grandchildren do not have to. We can mend these relationships and help perpetuate them. We have to remember that our relatives depend on us and we depend on them. Not just for medicine, we depend on them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

So, I’ve shared these stories with you, stories that in order to save and share i have sacrificed a lot. Two years since standing rock i have been tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets and escaped arrest. Now, I am sharing that with you. You can take these as fun stories,I just hope that you will take these and think of them as a responsibility that you have too have these plants. If you are going to live on this stolen land then i ask you to take action and stand next to me when i am fighting for these relatives. Don’t just go to the store and buy them and not consider how they got there. Think about them. Think about those people who are fighting for their relatives. Fighting for your relatives everyday. It’s not just the plants too, it’s the water. I hear people say that the momentum for Standing Rock is over. That’s not true! People are still fighting. I have friends who are still fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Indigenous people are standing up for their plant relatives. They are fighting for their wild rice relatives.There are people sacrificing their blood, sweat, and tears for wild rice that you probably buy online. Stand next to them. If you can’t be in Minnesota to support them, find other ways. Our plant relatives need us. They depend on us.

Above (click for more):  parts of Makhatomnica, mouse bean, Amphicarpaea bracteata. 

Next is sweetgrass, one of my favourites. It has actually taught us how it loves to be harvested. So many plants, I have to tell my students do not pull that plant up by the roots, if you leave the roots in the ground it will actually send up new plants for the next year. Sweetgrass isn’t like that. When you harvest sweetgrass you actually do want to pull it up by their roots to help thin it out. Sweetgrass is a ceremonial plant. Up until i was four years old our spiritual practices and religion were illegal and we were not allowed to grow any of our native ceremonial plants. We found that in the areas that we were unable to plant sweetgrass, they choked themselves out. They died because there was no one to thin their roots for them. It always hurts me to talk about that because i always think, gosh, i had a responsibility that i was unable to fill.

I remember an elder, Helmina Makes Him First, telling me that she remembers when she was little riding on Standing Rock and taking her horse and carriage. They loaded it up and rode it all the way from Little Eagle, South Dakota (the southern side of the reservation) all the way to where Cannonball and the Missouri river meets. So, the place where the Dakota Access Pipeline camps were set up has always been a very important gathering place for native people. A place where we would go to harvest plants and get to know these plants. Helmina said she remembers being so young and riding in a horse and buggy all the way up to Cannonball and camping there with 5 or 6 other families. They would spend days, eating singing and laughing together around fires, all harvesting sweetgrass from the sweetgrass beds there. In the 1950’s and 60’s through something called the Pick Sloan project, they built a series of dams all along the Missouri River that drowned all the sweetgrass in those areas. I remember Helmina telling me that back when she was little, they would go there and they’d harvest all of the sweetgrass, putting them in bundles so lovingly. Once they were packed in the back of the carriage, she remembers riding back in beds of sweetgrass and smelling it all the way home. When they got home, they spent weeks braiding sweetgrass and hanging it all throughout the house and to share with the community. She said that for months the house smelt like sweetgrass. They would sing songs and certain prayers to the sweetgrass. It’s always really difficult for me to talk about this because my kids will never know what that’s like. Because of the Pick–Sloan Program my kids do not sing those songs and they don’t know the prayers. We have nowhere to harvest sweetgrass on Standing Rock. I have nowhere to take them to do that. They  have no idea what it’s like to have those braids hanging through the house for months and smelling the sweetgrass. To them, sweetgrass is something we have to buy in a store and braids from people. These are the kind of relationships that we’ve built with these plants– even because of things that are not our fault, we have still neglected our relationship with these plants, and that harms usNot just because we don’t have access to that plant but because we no longer have that relationship.

I guess i do have a few favourite plants, this is one of them. I’ve heard it called “hog peanut”; we call it “mouse bean” in English and in Lakota we call it Makhatomnica which means “earth bean.” That’s because it develops two kinds of beans. There are these little small unpalatable pods above ground on the plant but then below ground it actually develops these beans. Some of the pods will twist their way into the ground to develop below ground and they grow to be delicious, meaty and larger than lima beans.. It actually has more protein than any other legume in existence. These large beans are a really important food source for two organisms. The first organism is the meadow mouse, who will tunnel into the ground to collect beans from the plant and then cache them in these grapefruit-sized caches all throughout the cottonwood forest. (Those same cottonwood forest were adjacent to where the sweetgrass once grew. These forests no longer exist, again because of the Pick-Sloan program.) The caches would sit on the surface of the soil and are difficult to see if you don’t have project.

Before the 50’s and 60’s, this bean was also one of the most important food sources for the Lakota, Dakota people and all the people along the river. A lot of the elders and women that I worked with remember the time when they were little before the Pick-Sloan program made this plant go locally extinct. They would walk with their grandmother(s?) through those cottonwood forests, which were so thick the path was like a tunnel.They would watch their grandmother, she carried a stick, she would be able to stick her stick into the cache, move it around a tiny bit without disturbing it and know exactly what bean was inside. Can you image getting to know these things that well? So, after finding one with mouse beans, they didn’t dig into the ground. These beans are difficult to harvest. They let the mice do the work for them. They would remove the top of the cache and take some or all of the beans. Then, they’d reach into a pouch on their waist and replace the beans with berries, animal fats or dried corn. As they walked behind their grandmothers, they remembered their grandmothers singing to the mice. The song was so beautiful it would echo off the cottonwood canopy. They’d sing to the mice saying thank you. Thank you for harvesting this amazing food for my children and I promise you that I will not let your children go hungry. They recognized that reciprocal relationship. Everyone thinks of the Lakotas and Dakotas as these great hunters of the mighty buffalo and having this relationship with the buffalo and that’s true! But they also had relationship with the tiny little meadow mice as well. My children will never know this experience or hear their grandmothers’ songs to the mice because these relationships have been broken.

Something I remind myself is that just like human relationships can mend, these relationships that we have with the plants and these stories can continue. My kids may have missed out but my grandchildren do not have to. We can mend these relationships and help perpetuate them. We have to remember that our relatives depend on us and we depend on them. Not just for medicine, we depend on them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

So, I’ve shared these stories with you, stories that in order to save and share i have sacrificed a lot. Two years since standing rock i have been tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets and escaped arrest. Now, I am sharing that with you. You can take these as fun stories,I just hope that you will take these and think of them as a responsibility that you have too have these plants. If you are going to live on this stolen land then i ask you to take action and stand next to me when i am fighting for these relatives. Don’t just go to the store and buy them and not consider how they got there. Think about them. Think about those people who are fighting for their relatives. Fighting for your relatives everyday. It’s not just the plants too, it’s the water. I hear people say that the momentum for Standing Rock is over. That’s not true! People are still fighting. I have friends who are still fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Indigenous people are standing up for their plant relatives. They are fighting for their wild rice relatives.There are people sacrificing their blood, sweat, and tears for wild rice that you probably buy online. Stand next to them. If you can’t be in Minnesota to support them, find other ways. Our plant relatives need us. They depend on us.


Linda Black Elk 

(Catawba Nation) is an ethnobotanist specializing in teaching about culturally important plants and their uses as food and medicine. Linda works to build curriculum and ways of thinking that will promote and protect food sovereignty, traditional plant knowledge, and environmental quality as an extension of the fight against hydraulic fracturing and the fossil fuels industry. She has written for numerous publications, and is the author of “Watoto Unyutapi”, a field guide to edible wild plants of the Dakota people. Linda is the mother to three Hunkpapa Lakota boys and is a lecturer at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Since 2001, she has taught many courses from English, Math and Native American Studies, to Science Education and Ethnobotany. Linda also serves as the Director of Traditional Medicine at the Mni Wiconi Clinic, which is a fully integrative clinic focusing on decolonized medicine that will soon be opening on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Earth Workers, Not Farmers

illustration of cotton

by Hunter Cascagnette 

Today, small scale commercial farming and agriculture are seen as noble and romantic occupations. But farming across Kanata (Canada) continues to be another form of occupation of Indigenous lands. The rural Canadian landscape is dominated by European settler farmers. These rural farming settlements are breeding ponds for White Supremacy and, as we have recently been reminded through the acquittal of a White farmer in the murder of Cree youth, Colten Boushie, a place of impunity for White farmers who act out violence on the bodies and lands of Indigenous peoples. Throughout the colonial history of these territories, farming and conventional agricultural practices have been pushed on Indigenous communities as a strategy for assimilation, cultural genocide, control and manipulation of the land.

Throughout the 1800’s Agriculture was viewed by the Canadian Government as the best solution for changing a nomadic lifestyle based on subsistence and relationships to vast territories into one that is fixed in place. First Nations people proved themselves to be very successful farmers because of their long history of stewarding these lands alongside growing and harvesting traditional foods. The success of First Nations farmers provoked the state to develop policies intended to protect the interests of settler colonial farmers. Reserve farmland was divided into small 40 acres plots. The small farm plots were created in order to promote individualism, and to continue disrupting Indigenous tribal systems. This process also informed the amount of agricultural land on reserves that would be available for surrender to the Federal government since the Canadian government considered any unused or unallocated land as open for sale or lease to the European settlers.

The 1890s brought more restrictions on farming, and new powers for Indian Agents on the reserves. The Permit System was introduced, requiring Indigenous farmers to have documentation in order to sell produce or to buy equipment. The Permit System required all First Nations to obtain a permit from an Indian agent before they could legally sell their products off-reserve. The restriction prevented Indigenous farmers from competing in the Canadian economy. Local businesses were prohibited from purchasing products from any Indigenous people who did not have a permit. Most infractions by First Nations farmers centred on the enforcement of the Pass and Permit provision in the Indian Act, which prohibited the free flow of people, goods and services to and from reserves. Native people were turned away and faced criminal prosecution if they did not have the mandatory permits or passes. The permit system did irreparable harm to the emerging initiatives of Indigenous farmers. There are cases where crops and produce rotted in the fields because permits could not be obtained.

So much of the natural state of the lands across Turtle Island has been altered through the project of removing Indigenous people and putting land into the hands of pioneer farmers. Agricultural workers have drained ancient wetlands, rivers and streams, polluted ground water with chemical pesticides, disrupted countless ecosystems including old growth forests (around the Great Lakes largely leaving only maple trees because they were seen to have monetary value), severely decreased Indigenous plant species and tree diversity, flattened land, removed massive amounts of rocks and minerals, grown monocrop vegetables and grains, stripped the earth of nutrients and microbial communities, introduced invasive European plant species, and on and on.

The Holland Marsh is a heartbreaking example of the types of violence that have been acted out on the land in the name of agriculture. Located 50 km north of Toronto, this ancient marsh land spanned over 7000 acres and drains into Cook’s Bay, part of Zhooniyaagama (Lake Simcoe). It is no coincidence that this land is known as some of the most “fertile” soil in Canada. The Holland Marsh is a shallow water basin that was once covered by part of glacial Lake Algonquin, and as the lake level dropped, the land shifted and a marsh was formed that was home to countless natural relatives. This marsh provided Indigenous people of these lands such as the Wendat, with the sustenance they needed to survive and thrive. As European settlers started to occupy the area (first through hunting and fishing which started around 1825), the fate of this ancient marsh was forever changed. Around 1900, the Bradford Mattress Factory was clearing the marsh of grasses to use as stuffing for mattresses. Then, in 1904 Dave Watson a Bradford grocer, persuaded William H. Day professor of physics at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, to explore the possibility of draining the marsh. In 1925, without any consultation with First Nations people, the project of draining the wetland began by putting in a canal and dikes 28 km long and 2 m deep around the marsh to divert the “Holland River.” Pumps were installed to control the water table within the dikes. The project was completed in 1930. Immediately afterwards, 18 Dutch families settled on the marsh which marked the beginning of an expanding agricultural community. It took about 500 years for 30cm of organic plant vegetation to accumulate over a layer of clay that lay in the marsh basin. And in only 100 years, we lost this rich, ecologically diverse and ancient wetland to the prioritization of White settlements and agricultural practices.

Another form of ongoing theft of Indigenous lands across Turtle Island that needs to be scrutinized is the “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasy. White folks who aspire to live on land either collectively with their friends, or in a nuclear family through private purchase of land in order to take up a lifestyle that is attune with nature. Living “rurally” is imagined to be more authentic and less stress inducing than the grind of urban life. Oftentimes, these folks are interested in “land based skills” and (invisibilized) traditional Indigenous practices, such as practicing herbal medicine with plants from these territories, traditional basket making, making maple syrup, harvesting wild plants and foods Native to these lands, wild crafting, harvesting and processing animals that are from these lands, and small scale farming or gardening. Although they claim to be against systems that uphold private land ownership on stolen Native lands, I see “radical” White “settler allied” queer and cis-straight folks legitimize their desire to settle on Indigenous lands in the name of “permaculture”(a holistic approach to farming inspired by Indigenous land stewardship methodologies based on synchronicities in nature) or farming, or by indulging their White saviour complex. The rhetoric often used is that if folks can use their privilege to gain access to private lands, they will be better settlers than the ones before by engaging in more ethical farming and land stewardship practices or by being committed to “sharing” or at least philosophizing about eventually returning title to the land to Indigenous people. The desire to fulfill these “back to the land” fantasies, has nothing to do with Indigenous land sovereignty. How will these ongoing forms of White entitlement and monopoly of these lands truly be different from the legacy of earlier European settlers?

The current agricultural industry across Turtle Island has been built on stolen land, and the stolen labour of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and People of Colour who have been pushed out of the contemporary rural landscapes through the projects of White Supremacy and cultural genocide. If you want to be a good ally by means of using your privilege for others to gain access to land, there are many Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour networks and collectives where you can donate money and resources to support people in self-determining how they will access lands and build their own land based community healing initiatives. More White settlers having title, control and access to Native lands is not helpful, no matter how benevolent or exceptional you might think you are. If you are a White settler who indulges “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasies, take a hard look at why you feel entitled to access even more Indigenous lands, trees, plants, medicines, waterways, traditions and land based skills.

As an insider-outsider, a mixed-race Indigenous & White person, I move through rural spaces with ease because of my White passing privilege, despite having to painfully witness all the ways that settlers continue to hold the land hostage for their profit. Over the past few years, I’ve been working to develop good relations with the settler colonial farmer community that I work wage labour in, to create space where Two Spirit people can be prioritized on land, and to engage local farmers in conversations about Indigenous histories of the territories, their treaty responsibilities and land ownership. In the lands where “Ste. Marie Among the Hurons” is a celebrated historical tourist attraction commemorating the first site of French Jesuit settlement, I am actively involved in staging a small intervention in the spirit of *returning*. Myself and another Two Spirit mixed-race Haudenosaunee earth worker steward gardens that are home to many Native plant medicines and foods. By planting traditional foods such as flint corn, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee beans, Gete Okosomin and ancient longhouse squash, Seneca sunflowers, sunroots, as well as medicine plants like sweetgrass, traditional tobacco, stinging nettle, wild bergamot, wild ginger, globe thistle, echinacea, blue flag, etc, we are bringing these relatives back to the lands where our ancestors once lived off such sustenance.

As Indigenous people trying to heal our lands, and revive our traditional diets and relationships to the land, from the ceremony of seeding to harvest, we are not farmers, we are earth workers. We work for our mother, the earth. To restore our lands, our traditional roles, treaty responsibilities, and relationships to all of our relations- so that our food/ plant medicines – and all our non-human relatives – can return and prosper; to help the earth, waters and our people to heal.

White settlers should not be profiting economically or morally from continuing to privately own and control land as they engage in the wide appropriation of Indigenous knowledges, while Native people in Kanata have title to only 0.01 percent of these lands. The maple syrup industry is a relevant example, as it trivializes and exploits our sacred cultural relationships to maple trees for the economic gain and access of White settlers. Sugar bushing has been so widely appropriated and practiced by non-Natives that it is now proudly claimed to be part of “Canadian” culture. Sugar bushing was made to be hard work for our people, now plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree in order to streamline the gathering of sap, eliminating a relationship based on intimacy and gratitude. Before the War of 1812, a prophet came to the Shawnee people. He was the brother of Tecumseh, a courageous Shawnee leader and war chief. This prophet was called Tenskwatawa, ‘The Open Door.’ He spoke of how European traders were cheating the Anishinaabeg by giving them whiskey in order rob them. Tenskwatawa attempted to curb the production of sugar making because the people were making too much of it, to the point that they were spoiling the trees by cutting them too much. This was being done so that the Anishinaabeg could sell the excess to the non-Natives in order to trade for European goods and pay off debts to settlers. The Prophet and his brother Tecumseh saw this participation in the settler economy as detrimental to Native independence and wellbeing. The brothers led a cultural revival movement to regain the sovereignty, power and access to resources. The Prophet said that the Anishinaabeg must return to the ways of the forefathers and decline any products or tools of the whiteman. The following is an excerpt of his teachings in reference to maple sugar translated to English. Part of a talk delivered at Le Maiouitonong entrance of Lake Michigan on May 4th 1807:

My Children – I made all the Trees of the forest for your use but the Maple I love best because it yields sugar for your little ones. You must make it only for their use, but sell none of it to the Whites. Besides by making too much you spoil the Trees and give them pain by cutting & hacking them for they have a feeling like yourselves. If you make more than is necessary for your own use you shall die & the maple will yield no more water. If a White man is starving you may sell him a very little corn or a very little sugar but it must be by measure & weight. My Children – you are indebted to the White Traders but you must pay them no more than half their credits because they have cheated you. You must pay them in skins, guns, & canoes but not in meat, corn or sugar,” Tenskwatawa urged us not to participate in the colonial, capitalist economy or to exchange the medicines of our maples, as well as other sacred life sustaining foods with European settlers.

As my father’s family goes out for our annual hunt every fall and winter, we cross through one provincial park, three designated conservation areas (held as “crown land”), and dozens of cottage properties. Being a group of both status and non-status Wiisaakodewininiwag, as soon as we set out into the bush, we are considered trespassers. It is through our hunting, trapping and fishing practices that the men in my family understand their roles and responsibilities as Wiisaakodewininiwag. Without that connection to the land, we would be vert lost. It is through our resilience as a people that we navigate through these colonial borders to keep our culture and harvesting practices alive. At this time of supposed reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadians, secure access to land for all Indigenous people (First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Status, Non-Status, Mixed Race, living on and off reserve, etc.) needs to be established. “Crown Land” (provincial park & “protected lands”) and privately owned lands held by White settlers, need to be rematriated and returned to Indigenous, Black, Latinx and POC communities and initiatives.

Updates on “Alliston” Aquifer water protection:

The existing Teedon pit quarry excavation site (site 42) in Tiny Township Ontario regularly removes gravel, sand, stone, and clay from “French’s Hill”. This is called aggregate mining. “French’s Hill” is part of the natural filtration system that cleans our local aquifer. Our local water (the “Alliston” Aquifer) has been tested as some of cleanest water in the world. By continuing to extract from French’s Hill they are weakening the natural filtration system which keeps the local aquifer so clean. Dufferin & Aggregates, an Ireland based company and division of CRH Canada, has a current water removal permit that expires mid April. Dufferin have applied for a new 10-year permit to continue to extract water for washing gravel. The company seeks to expand their operation and obtain another permit to take 1.6 million litres per day from a well and 5.2 million litres per day from a washing pond 210 days a year. The water underneath the Teedon pit is recognized as some of the purest water in the world. The existing quarry site was operating an illegal washing pond and only obtained a permit for the pond after it was discovered. Currently, the quarry site is also being used as an asphalt and concrete transfer station. This means large piles of asphalt (bitumen product) are sitting on the land, with no barrier between the asphalt and the ground to prevent contamination of the precious groundwater below. Local residents have been complaining that the “dewatering” being carried out by Dufferin is affecting the quality of their drinking water with cloudy water coming out of the taps. There are currently “community liaison” meetings happening about the renewal of Dufferin’s water removal permit but these meetings are not open to the public. There has been little to no consultation with local First Nations and Métis communities about the permit renewal. People living in the area do not know asphalt is being stored at the site. There is strong opposition to the permit renewal from local Beausoleil First Nation community members, Williams Treaty FN community members, local Métis community members, other local Indigenous community members, and settler residents. Site 42 is a few kilometres from Site 41, where a proposal to put a landfill on top of this same water was shut down in 2009 after many Indigenous people and supporters held a camp across the road from the site in opposition to the landfill. This aquifer is connected to the Waaseyaagami-Wiikwed (Georgian Bay), and the “Wye” and “Tiny” marshes (2 of Ontario’s largest wetland marsh conservation areas). It is our responsibility to protect and defend clean fresh water and all water. Fresh water is under continual threat across Turtle Island. Locally, we will continue doing ceremony for these waters and showing up outside closed meetings. An All Nations water ceremony led by Josephine Mandamin was held on Saturday April 14th at the Site 41 location. Hundreds of Indigenous people from across Turtle Island came together in ceremony to protect these waters. If you want to donate money toward local water defence organizing contact “Anishinabe Kwewag & Supporters” or “Friends of the Waverly Uplands” (make contact with Anne Ritchie; a trusted member of the local settler allied group) on facebook.


Hunter Devyn Cascagnette is a Two Spirit (of Trans experience) mixed-race Wiisaakode/ Michif-Anishinaabe & Euro settler person. An earth worker, hunter, and musician, building towards Two Spirit centric land, food, and plant medicine sovereignty and ecological restoration in their father’s Métis homelands of southern “Muskoka”. They are the co-founder and co-coordinator of a Two Spirit led sustenance sovereignty initiative called Sacred Seeds Collective (FKA Mno Wiisini Gitigaanan),located within Dish With One Spoon and Williams Treaty territory, connected to the sacred waters of Waaseyaagami-wiikwed (Georgian Bay).