As interest starts to grow around the health benefits of nature-based practices, Nass Valley Wild Medicine is running workshops to help localize the knowledge.
Founded in 2014, the collective was started by a few Nisga’a elders working with nurse Megan Oleson, harvesting traditional wild plants in the Nass Valley for medicinal use through remedies such as teas, salves and creams.
“We were doing [the workshops] really informally in the Nass with anybody who was like-minded or community members who were interested. We’d gather around tea and talk about plants, sharing knowledge,” says Olesen, who’s been working as a nurse in the Nass Valley since 2012 and a founding co-member of the Nass Valley Wild Medicine group.
“We started getting more encouragement from Nisga’a Lisims Government and the village governments to hold more structured workshops, so we then ran programming out of the Nisga’a Museum where we taught people about plant harvesting and would also do plant walks.”
Oleson says word eventually spread about their workshops in the Nass Valley with regular visitors travelling from Terrace, Kitimat and the Hazeltons, which also included school groups signing up, to learn about traditional plants.
It wasn’t long until community groups started to as whether they could hold these informative sessions for them throughout the Northwest.
When it comes to Nass Valley Wild Medicine products, Oleson emphasizes that it’s about respecting the land they harvest their plants from and making sure it’s gathered with good intentions. Their goal is not to exploit the area of what it grows to sell to a bigger market but to show the healing power that nature has to offer by reviving Indigenous knowledge — many of which has been lost or scarcely held onto in the last 100 years.
“We don’t really see ourselves as experts. We’re just more or less trying to create conversations and exchanges about plants and share our remedies,” she says. “We handcraft everything, we handpick everything ourselves. Then we process it very carefully, which all comes from our own personal experiences.”
For Morris Watts, one of the elders who is part of the Nass Valley Wild Medicine group, the workshops are a chance to share his Nisga’a culture and emphasize the importance of holding onto local traditions like harvesting.
“I always say to everyone that you’re living in the Garden of Eden when you walk into that forest, you have to know what to taste, what to touch and what to avoid,” Watts says.
“There are some people [in the community] who already know some of this but it’s important to refresh the mind… it makes you feel kind of special to learn all this.”
This spring and summer, Nass Valley Wild Medicine plans to recommence their plant walking tours which are open to the public.