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.

Yarrow Mind Medicine

illustration of the yarrow plant

by Sharrae Lyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

Sharrae

 

Yarrow Mental Fortitude and Will- Messages from Mother Yarrow

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

Lesson of Patience:

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

Letting Go:

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

Say Yes to Your Becoming:

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

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


 

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

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

Herbal Honeys

blue illustration of two bees hovering over a honeycomb

Herbal Honeys

by Joanne Kewageshig

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

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

 

Recipe

Dried herbs in the pan.

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

What you need:

2oz dried herbs or 3-6oz fresh herbs

4 cups water

2 cups honey

A pot

A strainer basket

Cheesecloth or other cloth to line the strainer

Coffee filter (optional)

Your imagination!

 

Directions:

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

Devil’s Club & Fireweed

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

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

By Bitty


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

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