Learning to Harvest Indigenous Medicine
By Adrian Levesque
On a cold windy day, a couple of years ago, I was invited to participate in a medicine picking excursion. The knowledge keeper brought me to a small area outside of Abbotsford known as the medicine wheel. This particular area was the land that was home to a type of cedar tree that is used for Indigenous medicine. This incredible knowledge keeper is a drummer as well as someone who throws water (facilitates sweat lodges).
She emphasized the importance of not just picking any branch of cedar but collecting the branches that were coming off with minimal effort. She stated that this means that the plant spirit is ready to give away this branch of cedar. She stated that if the branch isn’t coming off just by grabbing it, that particular branch of cedar wasn’t ready to be harvested. And of course, it could actually damage the cedar tree if the medicine isn’t harvested properly.
Then the harvesting began. She pulled out her drum and sang a song to the ancestors. Thanking them for the amazing opportunity to come onto the land and harvest important Indigenous medicines. As she sang her song, I would place tobacco ties on the ground, underneath the tree where I was going to collect the cedar medicine from. As the knowledge keeper sang, and I was placing tobacco, I was also praying to my ancestors. Thanking them for their struggles. The hard life that they lived. All the suffering that they bared. The hate that they endured. The loves that inspired them. All these things took place and made room for me to come into this world and live in a way that allows me to ease the suffering of others. In whatever small or large way that I can.
As I prayed and the knowledge keeper sang, the wind began to pick up. And for a small moment, it was like the wind was dancing around me. The energy almost felt like it was building up. Charging the moment with an ancestral blessing. Blessing the medicine. She would sing, and I would go from tree to tree. Slowly, and with intention, I would begin to see if there were any loose branches for me to draw from. One by one, the branches released their medicine.
My purpose for writing this article is to emphasize the point that this was a West Coast knowledge keeper. There is pride from the Coast Salish peoples in the authenticity of the teaching. How we pick medicine today is the same way our ancestors harvested medicine, all those years ago. With reverence, respect, and the intention of conservation.
I raise my hands to you all, dear readers.
Nîhkwêstohkwey (Thank you)