West Kootenay Elder Harvests Medicine Roots in Monashee Mountains

Elder Reuben Ahlstrom (Bear) holds up one of his harvested finds during the first wild harvesting workshop.

One Elder in the Kootenay Region West community is helping to connect Métis to their heritage through leading natural medicine picking in the Monashee Mountian. Read his account of the first workshop, hosted last fall.

Article submitted by Elder Reuben Ahlstrom (Beaver)

This past September, Métis of Nelson (Kootenay Region West) participated in a wild country workshop. The group picked natural medicines 4,000 feet above sea level on traditional Sinixt territory in the Monashee Mountains. Bear Root, also known as Osha, was the main plant that was harvested. It was a staple of the high mountain tribes of the East West Kootenay Region used in bartering for other staples. This trading occurred all along the Columbia and other rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean. 

A total of seven ladies aged 25 to 35 participated in the 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. workshop. Together, they worked under the supervision of a native Métis Elder, Reuben Ahlstrom (Beaver), learning how to locate patches, and dig the root with steel appliances. Bear Roots survive in very rocky areas with overburdening trees. They first moved the logs and rocks to harvest the root of the plant. Tobacco offerings, song, and drumming were given to the beautiful Mother Earth to acknowledge the love of the great spirit from whose hands they received the beautiful gift of medicine. They then refilled the hole.

The picking was the best that Elder Beaver had seen in that area for 35 years. The frost had hit the area hard. This resulted in the bear cane roots being revealed without any attached foliage. It was incredibly easy to harvest for this reason.  After several hours of harvesting in small groups of 2 to 3, the group took a short break for lunch and resumed the hard work until 3:00 p.m. Once the roots were harvested, the group washed them in a beautiful waterfall in a nearby creek. It was now 4:30 p.m. and so they made their way to the A-frame hut for a pleasant potluck feast, pipe ceremony, and discussion of other plants that are commonly harvested in the area.

These pickers were first timers to Bear Root. They gave half of their harvest to the handicapped Elder Beaver who trades Bear Root for other medicine. His trading lines for Sweet Grass, Sage, Rat Root, Oregon Grape Root, Devil’s Club, Licorice Root, and many others exist from Western Canada to the Northern Territories.

Beaver plans on other excursions like this to take place in August/September of 2021. Additional information from your respective Métis community will be available closer to the season. He is more than happy to help you with medicine-related matters. You are welcome to contact him.

Reuben (Beaver Ahlstrom) beaver.lodge@live.com, 1-250-352-3396 (m), 1-250-947-8972 (h)

Special thanks to pickers Kate Fulton of Castlegar, Catherine Courson and Darleen of Salmo, Charlene of Nelson, Mia from Winlaw, her Métis friend of Revelstoke, and Syoca Love of Winlaw. As well, thanks to Chapter President, Don Courson, and Jaunita Kipp for their help in mentioning the event at several gatherings. Elise Boulanger, Elaine Bouché and Alana Ahlstrom (Métis of Victoria), thank you for helping with communications.