Book Review: Science of the Sacred

Picture of Nicole Redvers "Science of the Sacred" book cover. in smaller font it reads "bridging global indigenous medicine systems and modern scientific principles". There is an image of a stethoscope and eagle feather.

Book by Nicole Redvers, ND

Review by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

I have been following Dr. Nicole Redvers’ work since she was awarded the Arctic Inspiration Prize for her work with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, an organization dedicated to revitalizing Indigenous traditional healing services in the North. As an herbalist and a woman of colour, working to support the resurgence of traditional knowledge in my community, I found her work to get traditional foods into hospitals super inspiring. When it was announced that she was publishing a book, I knew I had to read it.

The Science of the Sacred: Bridging Global Indigenous Medicine Systems and Modern Scientific Principles explores the relationship between medical research and Indigenous healing practices from across the globe. Redvers draws on her knowledge from her education and experience as a Naturopathic Doctor and more personally, as a Dene woman. While reading her book, I found myself pausing again and again, taking in the strength of traditional knowledge and the depth of understanding that our ancestors carried.

In a time where so many people are so sick, it can be so very to place Western Medicine on either side of a dangerous binary of good or bad as Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us, there is no Yin without Yang. Meaning binaries are but an illusion in the everchanging cycles of life. This book allows the reader to see how Western Medical science is also part of this cycle. A system that was once so deviated from natural ways of knowing has slowly started to come full circle and back to our roots. Redvers conducts a very thorough examination of current medical research that affirms the knowledge of our grandmothers, showing us that the future of Western science is one that can work in harmony with our various traditional systems of knowledge.

What struck me the most about the book was how much overlap there is between our various cultures and healing practices and it became clear that our various ways of seeing the world are not simply different worldviews, but in fact, are different interpretations of a common truth. We are all connected by the ways we have observed the natural world.

Overall, I definitely recommend this incredible and well research piece and look forward to seeing more of Dr. Redvers work.

Shabina is a community herbalist and organizer working towards the liberation of all people.

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.

Migmuessu aqq Wisqq

By: Gesig isaac

I am not an easy person to love. Perhaps if I weave you a basket this may change, however. Growth and transformation is a slow sometimes an unperceivable process. She goes by many names: Black ash, Basket ash, Wisqoq in Mi’gmaq. She likes her feet wet. She likes the swamp. The muck. The dark, damp. She likes to be pounded. Her layers peeled apart and woven.

Growing up I had always been surrounded by these baskets. I never paid too much attention to them. In my young mind I viewed them as a kind of artifact my white mom liked to accumulate and keep around the house with very little explanation as to their relevance.

At first, the baskets may seem funny to look at. They have curls and swirls and my favorite, spikes. Like a porcupine. Fast forward fifteen to twenty years later and I learn that we call these adornments jikij’j. I’ve also know them to be called wijki’kn.

You may see a tree in the forest today and it could be a basket the next. A vessel to carry, hold, transport, aid and adorn. It’s a process, a transformation.

It takes at least thirty years for a decent basket tree to grow. Depending on the weather, soil quality, what tree neighbours she has, she could be an even better basket tree. She doesn’t like cedar as a neighbour. I don’t really know why.

It took me a great deal of searching to find someone to teach me how to weave. I almost gave up a small handful of times. Her name is Irene and she has been in her fair share of bar fights. She comes from a family of basket makers. It’s how she makes her money. She hustles baskets. We have, for quite some time now, been a basket hustling people.

Intergenerational reclamation of traditional knowledge. Or maybe it should be called “Hello, I’m some confused half breed from the city. Please teach me everything you know.”

At times it feels like pulling teeth to find people willing to share their knowledge with me but when I do it is the most invaluable experience and gift. I feel as though I am living, walking and learning in a whole new way; a visceral experience I have not felt before. I am using my Mi’gmaq hands the way my ancestors intended.


 

Gesig Isaac
Gesig is a self proclaimed angry, misanthropic, half breed femme demon living and weaving in unceded Mi’gmaq territory.

There Will Be Elders

By Chief Coker

There will be elders. There must be. For decades I have been working to build space for them; and the knowledge of them; and the significance for them. People keep asking me what I think we should do. When we start talking we go big picture. Our vision: green oasis land sites and beautiful homes with animals and people co-existing. Its a lovely lush and abundant view. We talk picking it apart and end up calling out the technologies we need to build this vision. We then end up identifying multiple inputs required to support this vision, all to end up where I sigh and say. “So now on to grow our eldership! For without elders we will not have the strength and tactics to see change through.”

Change is coming! I swear it. Positive changes that will allow us to celebrate everyday in ways that make sense to the individual. Through food justice and social justice we have academia pulling apart definitions and understanding positive and negatives effects of our current system. What strikes me is that the very things these youth are going to school to understand has been detailed in major movements in history.It’s gaining traction now that conflict is in everyone’s face but it has always existed on the scale it exists now.

We are past the tipping point. What a shame we (the dominant culture) did not give this fact the weight it deserved. Which begs the question why the “F” is the dominant culture still the dominant culture? There is proof in the history of the dominant culture of the people’s conflict and experience with oppressive bully-like tactics. No wonder we are where we are now. Those who protest and resist feel like they are in a headlock by the system. Just like a bully the system has got us awkwardly bent over struggling to be free. We now have even more work to do since people have been living like this for over fifty years and apparently, that’s all it takes to be set in people’s minds as the only option. As if fifty is a significant chunk of time. Nevermind my culture, Yoruba, with over 11000 years of rich culture, successful and sophisticated was destroyed to accommodate a bully culture. Shame! Here in the western part of the world, it appears that as we continue to identify what is needed in our communities as we work to improve them. However, we only seem to give the solutions limited energy. We understand what we should do for the most part. Voting with our dollar at local stores versus big box store. Eating locally produced organic food and learning about our own and other indigenous cultures. We strive to be disciplined and then we make a compromise we sometimes do not even know we have made. In turn, reinforcing the head lock we find ourselves. The argument can be made that it is because we are building up to change. Building up to action. Rising up. By building, I mean, we are building momentum connecting the pieces through projects and actions. Building to present a holistic message which will result in change. The building blocks are the projects and events we create. The mortar is made of the events and happenings. The doors are presented by those who know how to interconnect these things so that others can see the structure. I also have the image of five fingers on a hand building its strength to become a first. First, we add the pinky, then the other fingers one by one, then we have to teach them to close. We build up to this. Each project represents a finger, each happening teaches the muscle to close, each unified message represents the first.

But there are many out there that see things coming. They see it years, even decades in the making. They can tell you what it really turns out to be in the end. Failed systems and broken promises. Further oppression and disparity. “Elders.” Not meaning the aged. Community elders. We know that we need to conserve and understand what is going on in our world. Not for lack of caring, we just fall short of the NEEDED input. Our current culture is so consumed with the day to day that we do not even have time to build changes into our lives. How is this? Yes, this current system and its markets are huge. It is in every corner. We can not help but see it. A lot of us try to change for our own health. Us parents often have to shelter our very youth from it so we don’t have to un-teach them later. The current capitalistic; make, money money! Moving on up and all that culture is choking us blind while kicking our offspring in the temple.

Dang!

Why are we reluctant to change in the western countries? Why do we wish to “develop” other countries like the west? Knowing the harm why would we want to see the big box stores everywhere? More things to buy and throw away? WHY?

You would think that our mission as a large diverse conscious population was to ignore natural laws. Ignore things like health and diversity unless it makes us money, have children and offer them little substance, build homes that cover all of the arable land and acquire things that take us further into this sickness? And even if you do not want to live like that; and that is not your mission, how would you know that you had a choice by the way the current systems tentacles are sprawled out everywhere?

Let’s acknowledge how difficult it seems to live sustainably, flagging income ability and race. However, those are learned barriers not real barriers. When those with the access to sustainable lives can tell you that it is cheaper and more accessible. The addictions are on the social, not the spiritual and ecological. Granted there are some real challenges when our cities are constructed to isolate us, when marginalized just means lack of good resources and when the current constructs by which we all live enable the oppressors to target their oppression. Then the food coops, free seeds libraries and culturally appropriate gatherings become inaccessible for entirely different reasons than want. It’s not for the lack of want, it’s not that the communities want bad food because even when people do have access to good food and sustainable choices, maybe the land that they have access has been poisoned or there are toxins in the ground.

Yes, alternatives are here. They have been. Now more can see it on social media. Some see it but will need to learn to first stop hurting themselves in order to start healing.  Turn away from addiction. A social rehab. A downside is that with all the alternative “Options” out there people plug in and invest into non sustainable solutions. Our elders could tell us that certain things have been tried before. Some methods have failed before or are dangerous solutions. We have lost touch so deeply with our own wisdom and with our elders that even the solutions we hurriedly present end up needing to be tested again and again. Time lost. While our best practices are finally reluctantly dusted off and reanimated. When we finally hear our ancestors and Elders guidance. Success!

Once we do we see very quickly how swift we can be. Our elders are a gift for our continuance. They are governance on the local level and our communities’ historical records. Research should start with elders. So many people in many places need to learn many things. Things Elders know and have lived to share with us. We in the west get a fast track with Permaculture tools. Designed to aid the transition of the Western culture into one that allows for diversity and equality. Simply put the change we want. Which keeps me coming back to the reality that without elders we are in the dark clinging onto these tools. It’s even more dangerous for us with these power tools in the dark. Elders are needed to come shed some light on the process. In our Permaculture villages especially here in Toronto, we have them. So let’s note for the sake of all of us in these many movements, at the many frontlines, there will be elders!


Chief Coker
Chief Coker is Toronto’s only active teacher who uses the knowledge of permaculture, traditional Yoruba culture and progressive social and food justice skills. Students and community members around Chief Coker recognize them as a passionate woman of colour with a strong social consciousness strongly linked to their Nigerian and Jamaican backgrounds. Students arrive en masse to learn from Chief Coker and to work on their ground breaking projects. They have been awarded with a Food System Leadership award in Toronto and Elders awards for their work with African youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a disciplined curator and humanitarian Chief Coker continues to provide eyewitness testimony with their skills in journalism and performance-based art to the struggle for those pushing back against oppressive forces. A sensei of Shodan ShotoKan Karate and dedicated mentor and elder in the PGTA village and GTA communities, Chief Coker leads a team of Leaders in action through projects and events around the world intended to better our leadership and cultivate healthy communities. They are dedicated to community and they put their direction and motives into words with their saying, “Positivity is Power.”