One of the communities in our vicinity has an organization that does "medicine walks". One of our goals for our Teacher Leadership and Learning Program Project (TLLP), was to infuse Indigenous perspectives into the classroom. What better way than to take students out on a walk and explore the traditional medicines available in "nature's pharmacy".
When we arrived at the beginning of our walk, we participated in a "smudging" ceremony, which involves the burning of sage to provide cleansing smoke before we entered the woods. We were also asked to take a small bit of tobacco and place it by a plant as an offering and a thank you. The students were enthralled by the seriousness with which this ceremony took place. They were completely engaged in the process.
As we walked, our guide explained how the stone found along the trail would have been used as a tool by Indigenous people to scrape the cedar bark for fire starter material. He explained how the oils from the cedar leaf is used to make tea that is used for a variety of ailments, such as coughs and colds. But he also warned that cedar sap can be poisonous!
Continuing along, we learned about balsam sap, fiddleheads, chagga and countless other plants. Students questioned. They listened. They explored. One student was overheard saying, "I wish we could do this kind of thing every day."
At lunchtime, we sat on a bluff overlooking a beautiful inland lake. Our guide shared a story with us about the origin of the lake. Prior to beginning, he explained to us that traditionally, storytelling is something that occurs in winter months. Again, we watched as students listened intently. The view was breathtaking and hearing the story of how the "Old Grandmother" island came to be was an unforgettable combination.
On our journey, we also encountered a wind turbine, erected in the last few years on this First Nations reserve. Students debated the merits and downsides to having a turbine in the community. They recalled the discussions of alternative energies and their pros and cons from class - great way to bring the conversation to life. They could see the turbine, hear it... We could hear banter back and forth - how exciting!
After a long hike, we headed back to an area with a firepit and tipis. We waited for the students who had been busy all day making drums. As we waited, we participated in some pow wow dancing. Even students who are typically reluctant to get up and participate danced. On the bus ride home, there was chatter about the experience. Excitement. Engagement. Interest in learning more.
Today, I learned a bunch of new things about plants and herbs. I also learned a story from my community. But mostly, I think today reinforced the value of learning from another culture's knowledge base. Oftentimes, we think of traditional medicines as outdated and antiquated, and not nearly as valuable as modern methodologies. But these are medicines and practices honed over generations, centuries. The Indigenous people of this land lived here for thousands of years without modern medicines...there MUST be something to that!!!