In preparation for the march this month to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and Two-Spirit, over two dozen people sat weaving beads onto leather pouches and filling each with dried plants as part of a medicine bag workshop in Terrace on Jan. 29.
The event was held at the Terrace Art Gallery by the Terrace Women’s Resource Centre Society (TWRCS) and the the Kermode Friendship Society to help bring healing events into the community and hold more discussions regarding MMIWG.
“These workshops are a warm-up so that we are intentionally engaging in the march in a healing capacity through the intentions of the medicine bags,” says TWRCS equity program coordinator Brin Friend.
“We’re really looking for unity in that unification of community knowledge and tradition as then there is healing, so really the intention is to merge both.”
Alongside the crafting of the medicine bags, Friend notes that many people came to the workshop to learn about the different properties of the local medicines being placed in the pouches.
Participants were invited to gather samples from a selection of tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass after listening to a presentation paired with a PowerPoint that listed all the benefits, including spiritual and scientific beliefs, of using the medicine in different ways.
Friend says the use of medicine bags is not only a First Nations practice as there are many groups around the world that carry similar beliefs, which have also carried into modern times.
“[We presented] what is known in the academia and the scientific realm, what is known in the world and what has always been known here… for example, the Quechua people in the Andes of Peru have their own medicine bags and a lot of salts and minerals are placed in those,” she says.
“Even Buddhist monks will carry around satchels and in fact, all they may possess is a medicine bag and everything else, including their food, is gifted. Most traditions around the world also engage in smudging, medicinal teas, cleanses, sweats, and cold water baths so all of the medicine that was touched on today is truly a part of the traditional knowledge of Earth.”
One of the participants, Kenny Watts, who is Nisga’a, says he came to this workshop as part of his own healing journey.
When he was young, he was taken away to a residential school and suffered through a lot of abuse. He says when he came home, he was angry at his community for letting him go so he turned to alcohol which made him an unpleasant, violent person.
“I’m here because I’m re-embracing my culture as a residential school survivor, I’ve been on this healing journey for 16 years and once I fully understand my traditions then I’ll officially be able to call myself a warrior again,” Watts says. “Making medicine bags for me is very important as I can take back who I am.”
At 63-years-old, he always carries a medicine bag on him to stay calm and remind him of his roots — that we are all connected to the earth.
“I carry the medicine that my grandmother introduced to me like cedar and the sage… it helps me be more accepting and embrace other people’s cultures, to acknowledge everyone as equals,” says Watts. “I feel a bit more self-empowerment, the ability to have the medicine helps guide me through my journey so that I can make more positive decisions on which way I want to go in my life.”
Another medicine bag making workshop will take place on Feb. 11 at the Terrace Art Gallery and the third annual MMIGW March is scheduled for Feb. 14.