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Native Plant Walk – May 13, 2023

It was a beautiful, warm morning on the Champlain Heights Trail, as 17 local residents gathered to welcome Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh nations educator, Matthew Williams, as he led a guided Native Plant Walk.

As a young boy, Matthew Williams began learning about native plants from his grandmother. Now, as an adult, Matthew continues to feel a connection to the plants and strives to continually learn more about the traditional uses of the plants.

Matthew has a special passion for harvesting Cedar bark and using natural dies, such as yellow dye from the inner bark of Oregon grape plants, to make unique designs on cedar hats or vests. This natural dye is used, not only to beautify cedar garments, but also to indicate who the owner of the garment is.

The Western Red Cedar tree has a special significance to his people, as it was used for so many purposes, from building long houses and canoes, to weaving and smudging. Matthew shared with us that there are “two types of bathing”, the type we are most familiar to clean our body and another that was for purifying the spirit. Matthew shared how one would climb high in a mountain, brush oneself with the cedar sprig to remove all negative energy and dip within a glacial lake. Following which, one would release the cedar sprig and watch it float away. This wash for purification was done before entering any new life change, so that one would enter without holding onto negative energy of the past.

This was just one of the many stories about the plants that Matthew shared on his walk. He stopped at so many plants to share traditional uses as medicine, food or more. Native plants he focused on were: vine maple, plantain, thimbleberry, snowberry, wild ginger, sword fern, salmonberry, and many others.

Along the walk, filmmaker, Daniel Akinshola, documented the journey. Daniel is going to edit the footage to post on our Free the Fern YouTube account, so that many more can learn from Matthew.

Following the walk, participants enjoyed having some time to connect with each other over tea, juice, and fresh baked Bannock and jam. The Bannock & jam were prepared by a local Elder & residential school survivor, Marge Wylie. Under the beautiful Douglas fir trees, we were all able to chat and connect about our relationship to plants and the forest.

Free the Fern is so blessed to receive funding support for this Native Plant Walk from: Vancouver Parks Board (Neighbourhood Matching Fund), Tree Canada, and Neighbourhood Small Grants.

Photos by: Grace Nombrado & Daniel Akinshola