Community and tradition can offer comfort and hope during an uncertain time

Four weeks ago, as I browsed Facebook, I saw something amazing. People in my community here at home in Kitigan Zibi were sharing pictures and stories about their days out on the land collecting traditional medicines for their family, friends and community members in need. These pictures followed with comments from other members of my […]
Photo: Katelin Belliveau

Four weeks ago, as I browsed Facebook, I saw something amazing. People in my community here at home in Kitigan Zibi were sharing pictures and stories about their days out on the land collecting traditional medicines for their family, friends and community members in need. These pictures followed with comments from other members of my community wanting to also help and share what they could.

The second I arrived back home from school on March 13 when the term was moved online, I felt safer. Maybe it’s because my community feels like a completely different world unto itself. Or maybe it was just the whole idea of being back in my “home sweet home.” But from the first moment I brought my bags inside my house, I was okay.

For hundreds of years, Indigenous people have been relying on a source of natural remedies to help mend and heal all physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain. These natural remedies, better known as traditional medicines, hold a significant place in our culture.

Chaga, Tamarack, Spruce stems, Cedar lemon, and Oranges. Ingredients one community member chose to create their medicine (mushkiki) tea. Photo Credit: Juanita Dumont
Chaga, tamarack, spruce stems, cedar lemon, and oranges are ingredients one community member chose to create their medicine (mushkiki) tea. Photo credit: Juanita Dumont

Before modern medicine was introduced, my people looked towards the land for help. It not only gave us ways of healing, but it also gave us a source of food, resource and protection. My people understood the land’s beautiful powers. They also learned how different plants and animals could give them what they needed.

Day spent on the land collecting and gathering traditional medicines.
A day spent on the land collecting and gathering traditional medicines reminds us of its beautiful powers. Photo credit: Angeleah Brazeau-Emmerson

Growing up, I attended Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan, which in the Algonquin language means Kitigan Zibi school. Here is where I had the opportunity to learn about my culture and the importance of its teachings by attending an Algonquin immersion class every afternoon throughout my elementary years.

This is what I thought about that day while scrolling through my Facebook feed: my people were looking towards our ancestors’ ways of living in order to overcome and provide a sense of safety through this unique time. In other words, I was seeing my community practicing what I learned about during my classes every afternoon.

My community was practicing our culture and families were together out on the land collecting and gathering medicines while being given the opportunity to share their traditional knowledge, on how to do so, with their families.

One community member creating medicine (mushkiki) water using land based ingrediants including, cedar, spruce, tamarack, white birch, peppermint, labrador, chaga and wejina (beaver castor).
One community member created medicine (mushkiki) water using land based ingrediants including, cedar, spruce, tamarack, white birch, peppermint, labrador, chaga and wejina (beaver castor). Photo credit: Mona Tolley

The posts I scrolled upon on didn’t make me fear everything that was happening any less, but they did make me feel hopeful. This hopefulness didn’t just come from the fact that I grew up in a place where I was surrounded by my culture and traditional practices, like having the knowledge of traditional medicines. Or from the fact that I come from an area away from a large city.

Instead, my hopefulness came from knowing how truly lucky I am to come from a community where everyone is working together to keep each other safe, healthy and at the end of the day feeling okay. We are going back to our traditional roots, uniting as one during this time of crisis and panic, just as our ancestors use to do.

Today, as we all face this global pandemic, it’s important to understand a couple of things. Although we are forced to be physically apart, that doesn’t mean we all can’t be there for each other. This virus is affecting everyone, it doesn’t care who you are, how old you are or where you come from. If coming home has taught me anything, it’s that being there for one another can make a whole lot of a difference.

One community member creating medicine (mushkiki) water using land based ingrediants including, cedar, spruce, tamarack, white birch, peppermint, labrador, chaga and wejina (beaver castor).
One community member created medicine (mushkiki) water using land based ingredients including, cedar, spruce, tamarack, white birch, peppermint, labrador, chaga and wejina (beaver castor).

My community is turning to our traditional ways of living to help fight against this fear we are all carrying. While I know not everyone is able to do exactly this, it is important that everyone tries to live in unity as my people have always been taught to.

No words can really explain the feelings and time we are all dealing with, but together, we can get through this.

Together is the only way we will be able to overcome it.

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