By Heidi Bevington-When Margaret Edgars walks in the forest she sees all around her the medicinal plants Haida people have used for countless generations, but she wants people to know that logging and deer are damaging the traditional medicine cabinet.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get our plants when we go looking,” Ms Edgars told an audience at the Haida Land Use Vision open house in Skidegate April 7.
“We’re here to try and protect our areas of medicinal plants,” said Ms Edgars. The forest companies “don’t realize how important it [the forest] is to our people.” Fairy slipper and hellebore are just two of the important medicinal plants getting harder and harder to find.
Ms Edgars began with a slide show illustrating the foods and plants traditionally used for health and healing by the Haida. Berries like salmonberry, salal, juniper and elderberry; plants like columbine and hellebore; and traditional foods like salmon, butter clams and seaweed are just some of the plants and foods the Haida use for their health.
Medicinal plants must be carefully collected and used only by knowledgeable people, Ms Edgars said. “These plants are poisonous. You can’t go out and gather them any way you want.”
Collecting medicinal plants and foods is a year round process. “There isn’t a day when we don’t gather,” she said. “There are different times of the year for everything.”
Sacred traditions guide the way Ms Edgars gathers medicinal plants. For instance, in the past, Eagle clan would gather medicines for Raven clan and vice versa. By doing this, each clan showed respect for the other.
Ms Edgars doesn’t want these sacred traditions commercialized by creating Haida medicines for sale. “That’s not the right way to go about it. There is a sacred way of going about doing our medicinal plants,” she said.
Steven Brown, along with Ms Edgars’s grandmother, mother, uncle, father, and Aunt Dorothy passed this knowledge to her. Now she wants to pass it along to her own grandchildren and all the youth who are interested.
For three years, Ms Edgars worked with Rediscovery, teaching Haida youth traditional food and medicinal plant gathering. “We used plants for food. The nettles we used in place of spinach. They didn’t know how to prepare the foods in the right way. I had to teach them.”
With Ms Edgars guiding them, the youth learned skills like cleaning butter clams, drying seaweed and preparing fish for drying and smoking.
“We’re not going to be able to teach our grandchildren if we lose all our fishing areas and plant areas,” Ms Edgars said. “Our fish is dwindling away. I want to be out all the time to protect if for future generations.”
As well as sharing her knowledge, Ms Edgars sits on the Land Use Planning Community Forum table to make sure traditional foods and medicinal plants are protected for future generations.
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