On a cool, misty morning in the Squamish Valley, Leigh Joseph meets her workshop participants by the side of an old logging road.
On a cool, misty morning in the Squamish Valley, Leigh Joseph meets her workshop participants by the side of an old logging road. She describes how to identify the thick stems and large maple-like leaves of the Devil’s-club plant, and how to harvest the bark sustainably and respectfully. The group members disperse with their baskets and knives, returning an hour later to clean and process the bark. Right there, at the edge of the forest, Joseph teaches the group how to make infusions and tinctures from the bark. She explains how they might use these products to boost their immune systems, reduce inflammation or level their blood sugar. In one morning, the participants go from foraging for a plant through to making a product to nourish themselves and their families.
Joseph runs these workshops with the Skwxwú7mesh First Nations in British Columbia and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations in the central Yukon as part of her doctoral studies. Her research examines the links between healing, the renewal of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and practices related to ethnobiology. It also explores ways that traditional foods and medicines, along with culturally relevant interventions, may prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes, which is three to five times higher in Canadian Indigenous populations than in the general population.
In 2019, Joseph was the inaugural recipient of Sandra Ann Chisholm MacLean Aitken Graduate Award, which helps fund her research in these two geographically distant communities. She says she feels an emotional resonance with the donor’s story of intergenerational connection. Claire Aitken created the award in honour of her mother’s incredible respect for the environment and its ability to invite personal reflection.
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Image via Priscilla Cannon.