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Contributions of Indigenous Herbalists

Preserving Ancestral Roots: Explore the Contributions of Indigenous Herbalists

As Indigenous History Month unfolds, we take this opportunity to celebrate and honour the invaluable contributions of three remarkable local Indigenous Herbalists. Their profound wisdom, ancestral knowledge, and dedication to preserving traditional healing practices have had a transformative impact on their communities. In this blog, we delve into the inspiring stories of Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, Sheena Bradley, and Joseph Pitawanakwat, as they illuminate the path towards holistic well-being and cultural revitalization through their work.

Contributions of Indigenous Herbalists
Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, Mohawk Herbalist

Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation is an Elder, herbalist, gardener, seed saver, educator and author who has dedicated her life to the teaching and learning of Indigenous language and customs. She is known for supporting thousands of survivors of residential schools and colonization through the use of plant medicine, story, language, and song.

Jan was born and raised in the Haldimand Tract on the Grand River, which is now known as Six Nations, Ontario. Some of Jan’s earliest memories are from sitting around an oak table listening to her Elders tell stories of the natural world. She grew up close to the land with a circle of wise women who were her teachers – she was seven when her mother began teaching her about plant medicines. In the Mohawk language, Jan is called Kahehti:io, which means “Beautiful Garden” or “Garden of Plenty”, a true illustration of her dedication to traditional food and medicines.

As an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, Jan wanted to help herself and her community heal from the legacy of residential schools – this led her to run Idawadadi, a ten-year program that won the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s best practices award. When this project was done, women were asking her for more support and Dotah’s House was born. Here Indigenous women survivors heal from the trauma of residential schools while strengthening their communities through cultural knowledge. The series offers monthly workshops that enable members of the neighbourhood to hear, laugh, and heal with the Dotahs (Elders).

When Jan tells stories you can feel her deep, loving connection to the land and her blazing passion for traditional food and medicines. Click here to listen to her share teachings about our relationship to the sustenance of the earth, Indigenous slow foods, and her ongoing cultivation of Indigenous seeds, medicines, and food.

Contributions of Indigenous Herbalists
Sheena Bradley,
Sheena Bradley, Métis Herbalist & Birthworker

Sheena Bradley is a Métis Herbalist, Medicine Maker, and Birthworker who lives in nistawâyâw (Fort McMurray) on Treaty 8 land. She founded and runs Omisimâw Wellness, a herbal apothecary where she creates and shares self-care products and other herbal remedies featuring seasonal medicines to support emotional, physical, mental and spiritual balance.

Sheena was raised within a community that honoured the wisdom of the land and the knowledge passed down through generations, She felt a calling to preserve this sacred heritage. Guided by the teachings of her elders, she embarked on a lifelong quest to understand the intricate relationship between humans and nature.

In an era driven by quick fixes and synthetic solutions, Sheena remains committed to preserving Indigenous knowledge. Recognizing the urgent need to bridge the gap between traditional wisdom and contemporary practices, she has dedicated herself to ensuring that ancient remedies are not lost to the passage of time. Through educational workshops, community outreach programs, and collaborations with healthcare professionals, Sheena has worked tirelessly to raise awareness and revive respect for the power of Indigenous healing.

In 2021, Sheena, along with two other individuals working in the field of childbirth, established the Ihkapaskwa Indigenous Wellness Collective. This nonprofit organization focuses on offering a range of services to Indigenous families, with the goal of providing comprehensive care throughout their lives by revitalizing traditional systems of family connections within the community. Their program aims to bridge the gaps in Western healthcare services by incorporating support-oriented Indigenous kinship systems and integrating traditional methods of healing and well-being. The program involves the participation of Elders, Aunties, Uncles, and Birthworkers who serve as mentors or guides for families.

Joseph Pitawanakwat, Photo taken by CBC
Joseph Pitawanakwat, Anishinaabe Plant Medicine Educator

Joseph Pitawanakwat is a Anishinaabe learner & educator,  and member of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Growing up surrounded by the teachings of his ancestors, Joseph realized the significance of his cultural heritage in his early years.

After the death of three plant teachers at Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Pitawanakwat left college to learn from his grandmother. He recognized the importance of her plant knowledge and the potential consequences if it was not preserved. This inspired a lifelong quest to preserve and share the ancient knowledge that his people hold.

One of Joseph’s most significant contributions lies in the realm of traditional healing. Drawing upon the medicinal properties of plants and the healing powers of nature, Joseph has played a pivotal role in reviving the use of traditional medicines in his community and beyond. Through Creator’s Garden, a platform he founded, Joseph shares his ancestral wisdom and promotes the use of herbal remedies for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. His teachings have reached over 150 First Nations communities and hundreds of institutions throughout Anishinaabe territory and beyond. 

Joseph’s work not only focuses on healing the physical body but also emphasizes the profound connection between nature and the human spirit. His teachings remind us of the importance of honoring and preserving the Earth, recognizing it as a source of sustenance, healing, and spirituality. 

Did you enjoy this blog? Meet three Indigenous women and learn about their contributions to herbalism and healing in our blog post “Women’s Herbal History” – read it here.

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