By Grandmother Kim Wheatley
Aaniin, Boozhoo, Tawnsii, She:kon, Kwe Kwe kinawiiya (Greetings my relatives!)
Curiosity about traditional medicines has really entered the media spaces today as we try to navigate the pandemic of COVID19.
This is a great time for our ancestral Indigenous knowledge to step forward into everyday practice. In my journeys learning a little bit about identification, usage, protocols, and locations has been very helpful.
Today I would like to explore our grandmother medicine commonly called Cedar or “giishik” in my Anishinaabe language. This beautiful being is often referred to as a grandmother and all of her body is medicinal in a wide variety of ways. She comes in many varieties but in the territory I come from we access white cedar.
This beautiful medicine is so abundant and loves moist wet environments. Her roots, stems, bark, and body are and have been used for centuries in so many ways. Cedar boxes and trunks were once so common that almost everyone owned one. It was a great way to keep the moths away from treasured clothing and handmade items. Cedar blocks and hangers in closets are still quite common and leave a delicious scent as well.
In traditional practices cedar was used in so many ways that I will only refer to a few in this share with you today. Communities would gather cedar roots to “sew” with for many birchbark items and for canoe making. Harvesting cedar roots involves bog and marshy areas where you feed a lot of mosquitoes and follow intertwined roots beneath mossy wet underskirts of bushy areas. Cedar was used to make many everyday implements and is a softwood that is used for hand-drum frames due to its light in weight nature.
Many types of furniture are still made of cedar today and it’s a durable but light wood that was used in canoe building, paddles, houses, boxes, totem poles & tools. The bark was used for making mats, clothing, baskets, nets, fishing lines and medicines and so much more.
I would like to focus on its medicinal usage. It is said that its one of the first medicines used when interacting with the first settler nations to arrive on our shores who were suffering from scurvy which is a lack of Vitamin C. This beautiful medicine is also helpful with constipation.
Cedar is full of vitamin C and can be easily brewed into a tea with its branches steeped in water for a short time. It also has great healing properties to clean skin and wounds. It is gathered in Anishinaabe ceremonies by women and cleaned of debris and seeds and placed into bowls for offerings in our sacred fires.
Cedar baths are a common form of healing & preparation for newborn babies and newly deceased relatives that are considered ceremonial in practice. It is considered a form of protection physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Ceremonial lodges are surrounded in cedar boughs as are sacred mounds and can be harvested year-round. It keeps its magnificent green colour and is easy to spot in white winter landscapes but also in other seasons as well.
My first time cleaning cedar was a surprise as my fingers began to look a shade of black…it was simply the oils of this plant coating my fingers as I removed debris and seeds in preparation for ceremony. I must say I loved the beautiful fragrant oil and have come to learn burning dried cedar in your home is one way to clean the atmosphere!
As you can see there are many, many ways to utilize this beautiful grandmother tree and maybe you will be inspired to seek her out and ask for her help in your world. Why not share some of the ways you have learned to interact with her and what she is called in your territory.
Best of luck in learning about your grandmother “giishiik”!