Casual Country 2020: Healing Powers

Lori Sellars (left) with Barb Wycotte and Mary Harry are all keen on practising and expanding their knowledge of traditional medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Lori Sellars (left) with Barb Wycotte and Mary Harry are all keen on practising and expanding their knowledge of traditional medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Lori Sellars says more youth are becoming interested in the preservation or harvesting of traditional Indigenous medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Lori Sellars says more youth are becoming interested in the preservation or harvesting of traditional Indigenous medicine. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Three Corners Health Services Society executive director Lori Sellars says they start each meeting with this Secwepemc prayer (Rebecca Dyok photo)Three Corners Health Services Society executive director Lori Sellars says they start each meeting with this Secwepemc prayer (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Traditional medicines can be used for a variety of purposes. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Traditional medicines can be used for a variety of purposes. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Barb Wycotte makes some sxusem (soapberry) ice cream. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Barb Wycotte makes some sxusem (soapberry) ice cream. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Melamen —Secwepemc for medicine — can be found all around you in the wilderness of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

The spring and summer are commonly the best seasons to collect the inner bark, roots and branches of qwlsellp (green willow) that can be used for pain relief and to help treat eczema.

From elder to child, the medicinal properties the hundreds of plants and berries hold continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

Marry Harry, family liaison at Three Corners Health Society in Williams Lake, knows.

With jars of melamen she picked inside her home, Harry said she always has kewku (sage) and sekwew (rosehip) on hand in the winter when cold and flu season is in full swing.

“In our culture, if your mom isn’t the one showing you then it’s either the other females who know how to do some of the plants,” she said.

Told qwllillennllp (birch bark) could relieve some of the pain her partner was experiencing from having broken their femur, Harry it had helped.

“You have to use the medicines to be able to understand them and you also have to believe that the medicines will help you because they also have a spirit, and that’s why we always give an offering when we’re taking plants to thank them for whatever ailment they may be helping us with,” she said, adding they also ask the creator for permission to pick berries in the territory amongst bears and protection from them.

Read More: COVID-19 testing available at Three Corners Health Society in Williams Lake

Common to most areas, sxusem (soapberry) is used to not only soak tired and sore muscles but can be made into a nutritious ice cream or a cleansing tonic.

As family connection liaison Barb Wycotte went to grab a bowl, handheld mixer and some sugar, Harry recalled how her grandmother who did not have a blender at the time would use corn husks tied onto a stick to whip the berries until frothy.

“Nowadays I see some people add raspberries,” she said of sxusem ice cream.

When refrigeration was not common, the berries were dried into ‘cakes’ that could be soaked and made into ice cream.

Adding small amounts of water, Wycotte showed how a ‘whipped cream’ texture eventually formed after whipping the berries and adding some sweetness to the earthy and slightly bitter tasting mixture with sugar.

Melamen has played an integral role at the Three Corners Health Society, which published a 39-page Secwepemc Traditional Medicine book in 2018 authored by elders Clara Camille of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe/Dog Creek), Cecilia DeRose of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) and Jean William of T’exelc (Williams Lake).

Heather Camille of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council also assisted.

“We wrote the book for our youth and for us to have an opportunity to share with our families traditional healing,” said executive director Lori Sellars, who found it important to incorporate their knowledge of melamen with the Western healthcare model.

One of the Secwepemc’s most powerful medicines is stsmut’elqe —the black fungus found on birch trees. Besides being boiled in water to make a tea, it can also be used to smudge.

Read More: Who cares for the caregivers? Mental health supports for front line workers

Because not everyone knows how to appropriately preserve and use melamen, it is important to always discuss with a knowledgeable elder before using any traditional medicines.

“I know some communities are not apt wanting to share it,” Sellars said, noting melamen is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Some melamen can be collected year round such as spitpetqin (rock lichen). The lichen off of rocks can be used as a poultice or body/bath wash to assist in aiding a variety of skin conditions such as impetigo and thrush.

Regularly attending Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in Williams Lake in June at Boitanio Park, the Three Corners Health Society hosts an annual melamen celebration on Sept. 12 where Indigenous people from neighbouring First Nations communities gather to share stories and traditions alongside melamen and food.

Although Indigenous Peoples Day was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sellars confirmed Melamen Day will go ahead this year where it will be held via a much smaller gathering at the Three Corners Health Society.

Read More: Tsilhqot’in utilize social media after annual Nation Gathering called off due to COVID-19

As more turn to outdoor activities for their mental well-being and to safely connect with close family and friends, interest in continuing a tradition long practised by their ancestors of collecting and practising Indigenous traditional medicine has risen.

“When you’re out on the land and actually in that environment, you slow down and I find that in itself can be healing,” Sellars said.

Three Corners Health Society is working on completing a second edition of Secwepemc Traditional Medicine which is anticipated to be published before the end of the year.

“If we do a book every three to five years that will be good,” Sellars said.

“It’s identifying and sharing because every year it’s sad because we lose more of our elders, and in order to incorporate and ensure we don’t lose the language we need to make sure we practice the knowledge.”

Cheryl Pope, who grew up with her family at Canoe Creek, has been absorbing as much knowledge as she can about traditional medicines in recent years.

“I have been around some traditional medicine practices all of my life thanks to my grandmother, mother and extended family but only recently have come to appreciate plants and trees and how they can be used to support our health in a natural way,” said Pope, financial manager for Three Corners Health.

“I have done some harvesting on my own and more recently learning from Dr Jeanne Paul who has provided a formalized approach of studying traditional medicines and in her own words, she ‘brings our medicines to the 21st century’ by combining science and her medical background with her in-depth knowledge and passion for traditional medicines.”

Pope said it’s fascinating to carry on the knowledge and share what she learns with her family and community to support their health and wellness in a natural way.


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Health and wellnessIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)
RANCH MUSINGS: Wagon visit to Lhoosk’uz (Kluskus): part four

We had arrived at this remote Southern Carrier Nation village after dark… Continue reading

Freya Cockwill, 4, Lyra Cockwill, 6, and Haylee Sigurdson, 9, had some fun designing and painting face masks during the Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy’s Family Fest in January of 2020 in Williams Lake. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Watch for Tribune Reach-A-Reader edition Jan. 21

Read the Tribune newspaper on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 to learn more about CCPL and literacy

Residents are reminded to remain vigilant in following COVID-19 precautions as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Climbing COVID-19 cases prompts City of Williams Lake to increase response level

City leaders continue to press for more information from Interior Health

A sign outside Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake last summer reminded visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Moderna vaccine coming to all six Tsilhqot’in communities within coming days, weeks

Yunesit’in First Nation to receive COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 13

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read