Ancestral Medicine Meets Hydroponics
Tsawaysia Spukwus makes time for a quick chat before she packs her deer skin and wooden frames and heads out to a drum-making workshop.
As usual, she is excited about learning something new. She is always learning something new.
For her latest project, Tsawaysia is planning a small grow op, but not the kind you’re thinking of. The “killer green” Tsawaysia is itching to grow is nettles. Yes, regular stinging nettles. The same edible variety that pushes up Squamish-wide in spring and is used traditionally by Squamish Nation for its anti-inflammatory properties and to make twine for fishing nets. Her harvested nettle will be used to make traditional tea and medicinal salves.
Teaming Up with Sea to Sky Aquaponics
Helping her on this project is Jonathan Luckhurst, owner of Sea to Sky Aquaponics. He is young and hungry, with a background in genetics, cell biology, and visual art. Jonathan is equally stoked about the project: “ It’s such a cool collaboration between something that is very traditional and something that is very technical and modern. It’s a really cool convergence of ideas; sustainable agriculture with a tradition I have a lot of respect for.”
Tsawaysia is starting small and going big at the same time. Her hydroponic system uses the biggest plastic tote she could find as a base. This container holds water which is circulated by a pump to help the plants grow.
She had originally considered building an aquaponic system, which includes fish and makes use of the nutrients passed on through their waste. In the end, she decided to skip the fish, keep it simple and contract Jonathan to design a small hydroponic system. It requires less maintenance and allows Tsawaysia to grow traditional medicines, and growing edibles like kale, all year long.
Learning Traditional Skills with Modern Technology
Tsawaysia is trying stinging nettle first and experimenting to learn which ancestral medicines and edibles grow best in a hydroponic system. She spends time dreaming and planning and looking through seed catalogues. She knows that not every plant is a candidate for hydroponics; the swamp-loving Labrador Tea is off the list, but red clover might just work. “Everything’s trial and error. I’m not going to know unless I try it.”
The right plants in the small system will produce a lot. And quickly.
Tsawaysia uses any and all tools in her quest to relearn ancestral ways and apply them to modern methods and technologies. She teaches herself the oldest ways with the newest technologies, including the internet. Youtube is her friend and books too. “I’m always reading. If I want to know about yarrow, I’ll read about yarrow, yarrow, yarrow.”
She is a born learner, driven to reclaim traditional knowledge and share it with her people by paying close and humble attention to the world and the lessons it offers: “There’s always something out there teaching us. It’s a matter of looking and listening.”
New Ways, Old Teachings
With a hydroponic system, Alice isn’t taking reverent walks through the forest to gather medicines. In this new tradition, the teachings of patience and respect remain necessary but adapting to current environmental realities means practicality plays a part too.
Tsawaysia explains how these lessons transfer in a new context: “We go out every spring and we harvest cedar. We thank the tree and we hug the tree and we say a prayer. Yes, that’s awesome. But I also go out to the log sort and strip a fallen tree. That saves a tree. Yes, I get the medicine. Yes, I can still share the teachings and show what its medicinal value is. I can still teach about respect.”
Medicinal Hydroponics Workshops in Squamish
Jonathan and Tsawaysia are planning collaborative workshops teaching the public how to build these systems. Jonathan’s knowledge of hydroponic systems and Tsawaysia’s teachings of tradition and medicines from a First Nations perspective will give keen students an opportunity to dive in head first. Think ancestral knowledge meets modern technology. To learn more, check back to Sea to Sky Aquaponics and Tsawaysia’s Facebook pages.
Try, Try Again
Spukwus says that when she first started drumming, she couldn’t drum and sing at the same time. So she just moved her lips and let her brother do the singing. She is a fearless learner, one who’s not afraid to improvise and, of course, make a lot of mistakes…
Her enthusiasm for being a newbie elder reminds us: Just begin. Just be curious. Just take your knowledge any way it comes.
Never be afraid to be less than an expert.
Learn more about what Tsawaysia is up to in the community here: http://www.tsawaysia.com