14 Aug Ancient Medicines Part 1: The First Five Months, From Quarantine
Starting the Process
During the 2020 Quarantine I was fortunate to work from home. Pre-COVID, the Cultural Team at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre had been planning an Ancient Medicines exhibit in 2021, so I was looking forward to developing content, but I was also wondering when I would have the time. When the decision was made to close the SLCC as a safety precaution to COVID-19, the time I was looking for was presented to me, as I could dedicate my working from home to this very exhibit.
Staying home in the beginning was difficult; I had been used to commuting to work, going shopping in other towns,and going to the movies. Slowly, I began to enjoy staying home, gardening, and cooking. When I found out that the SLCC received a grant from Indigenous Tourism BC to support my research for the upcoming exhibit, it could not have been better timing.
Even with this newfound time and funding, the process has not been easy. The Lil’wat Nation took safety measures very seriously, making it challenging to find a mentor for this exhibit, which was troubling. Ancient medicines are not a subject to go into lightly and all alone. It took a long time for me to pivot from my original plan, as I realized that I would have to lean into the virtual world to be my mentor. I included my nieces and nephews as much as I could in my process; they gave me company and my sisters a break.
Ancient Medicines: Emotional/Heart, Intellect/ Mind, Physical/Body, Spiritual/Soul
For Indigenous people, medicine was a part of our daily life. It was holistic, preventative and balanced. “Medicine” included emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual health all together; it wasn’t just a pill you take three times a day. I’ve done my best to acknowledge all aspects of the Medicine Wheel in my research. I involved my family in my process, and I appreciated this opportunity to blend work with the pursuit of healthy living.
There were a couple of times during the Quarantine that I felt confused, isolated and frustrated. I was very lucky to keep working throughout and didn’t have any financial strain. The SLCC and Lil’wat Nation were very kind to those families that were without incomes due to safety measures.
Listening to Songs From our Nation Volume 3 was immensely helpful during this time. I appreciated listening to all of the language songs, particularly “Sulyalesta,” a song about an Elder Lady of the Lil’wat Nation and the activities that she was doing. Almost entirely sung in Ucwalmicwts (the traditional language of the Lil’wat Nation), I hadn’t heard this song sung for a long time, and it was one that I had learnt to dance to as a very young girl.
You can learn just about anything off of Youtube; I’ve learned to do light maintenance to my car, light plumbing and repairs at home, and endless amounts of crafts and cooking tips. For my work on Ancient Medicines, I have been researching how to infuse plants into carrier oils. Thanks to Homesteaders, I’ve successfully done wild rose, cedar and plantain with plans to do lavender, juniper, yarrow, and pine needles before the end of this year. I’ve been working with extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, and (my favourite) sweet almond oil. My sister makes soaps, so I’ve been preparing oils for salves that she can make soaps from.
For physical activity, we took family walks in our beautiful territory. We visited an old Istken at the Bailey Bridge, we walked from Xet’olacw towards Mud Lake (the road turned out to be muddier than we expected, and no one had the proper footwear), and our favorite walk was from the old gas station to the old suspension bridge. We found this was nice and quiet, easy for all generations, and it allowed the kids the freedom to explore off the road to play. As quarantine lasted longer than we anticipated, the activity moved to playing bocce ball, ladder throw, and horseshoe in our yards.
Gardening is both physical activity and an encouragement to eating healthy and fresh. When the quarantine first came into effect, I was concerned about food security. When I was growing up, my grandparents had a small orchard, a small garden in the backyard, and a small herd of cattle. In these uncertain times, I looked to them and their lifestyle to inform me. I’m proud to say that, while I’ve never had much luck with my patio gardens, we never went without food. I became more serious about my gardening by asking questions, reading books, and, most importantly, being persistent. I’ve still had some seedlings die, but I persevered by replanting and buying starters off other gardeners.
Having the garden has been challenging but as different things are ready, I’m happy that I’ve been sticking with it. I currently have more lettuce than I know what to do with, which I’ve gladly shared with my parents and work colleagues.
While we were out scouting for the next hunting season, we decided to bring buckets in case we found berries. We were lucky to pick some Xusem, also known as ‘Red Gold’, a berry that we use to make a traditional drink. To harvest the berries, we placed a cloth under the bush to catch the berries as we hit the bush with sticks. Even with the cloth in place, some still fell on the ground… I think my Grandma would have laughed and scolded me for how many missed the cloth!
The last time I went to pick Xusem, I was only eleven years old and a bee stung me on the left temple; it hurt so bad. Setting out this year, I remembered how to pick Xuseum but forgot how to process it. I posed the question on my Facebook page and, thankfully, received a lot of great responses from the community. The harvesting and processing of Xusem was easy enough, preserving was what I found difficult…
I made three attempts: to start, I had ten cups of berries that filled four and a half 405 ml bottles. When I went to seal it only one was sealed. On my second attempt, nothing else sealed. So, I reprocessed it, added in one cup of honey, and tried to reseal it again. Instead, two of the bottles broke. I must admit that I cried at my continued failure and called it quits. I think my partner gifted one to his family, and I kept the only bottle that was actually sealed. At this point, I’m unsure if I will pursue preserving Xuseum next year, or if I’ll be happy to pay $40.00 a bottle. Now I know why it’s called “Red Gold”.
I made this Xusem with no sugar or honey this way it has medicinal properties. It also has a very bitter taste but will help cleanse your blood. I didn’t take any photos of processing Xuseum, it was a lot of messy work and it went by so fast.
My one successful bottle of Xuseum
There are some foods that I gather and only eat fresh like haqwa7 and pine mushrooms. My partner and I like to enjoy them in season, and we give the majority of our harvest to our parents, who freeze or dry them. I plan to dry pine mushrooms as my first attempt at canning them failed, and to dry next Spring’s haqwa7 for the exhibition.
I will refrain from talking too much about Spiritual health as it is so personal. Currently, I do a lot of smudging and singing to myself but this is a very personal choice. I have picked Juniper and cedar to make smudge out of, and I’m hoping to get some sage this summer.
In Summary (for now…)
Sometimes it is very surprising how setting intentions can manifest great things. All last year I was pondering how I would find the time to learn about ancient medicines and where I would find the time to get out and do it. I have learnt a few lessons so far, the greatest being that the most time consuming is finding the plants. Yes, I’ve explored plenty of our territory, but I never looked closely at what is growing where. For example, this spring I was out looking for a specific plant and could not find it. When dropping my niece and nephew off at their home, it was growing in their front lawn! I thought to myself I would return with equipment later to harvest it, but never did. My lesson learned is that I now travel with garden gloves, buckets and clippers in my car and follow the mantra “if I see it, pick it.” My next step is to start making medicines. I anticipate the fall and winter will give me the time (and cross my fingers not another quarantine, lol) inside to start that process.
Written by Mixalhitsa7 Alison Pascal, Curator