STEPS TO DECOLONIZING HERBALISM
A working list…
Rewilding Diet & Lifestyle – Colonisation and capitalism have destroyed most of humanity’s connection to the source of life that nourishes us. Reconnecting people to wild nature restores our deep relationship to the ecosystems and life we depend on for wellbeing and survival. Supporting wild food harvesting provides free, nutrient rich, and abundant food supplies, creating resiliency and strength within communities. Supporting communally tended land for ecosystem restoration, wild food and medicine harvesting, permaculture, indigenous & community led land stewarding, water collection, and education is a part of decolonization. Moving away from systems of capitalism and privatization, creating direct access to sources of wild foods and medicinal plants available to everyone. Listening directly to the spirits of the land, gathering information and guidance from many sources (Western scientific, indigenous communities, experiential knowledge, permaculture practice, ancestor guidance, ceremony/prayer).
Acknowledge & Fight Against Oppression/Colonisation in Herbalism – Recognise & understand how all forms of oppression exist in the realms of herbalism & natural medicine, continuing to harm individuals and communities. Acknowledge the ways racism, white supremacy, privilege, sexism, classism, colonisation/appropriation, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, (and other forms of oppression) impacts the health and wellbeing of individuals and larger communities. Actively work to not perpetuate the oppression and continued colonisation of indigenous & marginalised peoples. Understand the ways human population and white supremacy/capitalism have created widespread impacts to our environment and indigenous communities. Recognise the intersections between impacts on indigenous peoples and natural ecosystems. Challenge ourselves as partners of the plant world to work for the wellbeing of all life, knowing our interdependence and interconnectedness with our whole earth family.
Discover Your Lineages & Indigenous Ancestral Herbal Traditions – Learn about the herbal lineages of your own blood ancestors. What did they practice and what plants were they using for healing? How did your ancestors live in close relationship to the earth? Understand the history of your ancestors, the lands they came from, and what stories they carry. How can you support the healing of your ancestors and their healing traditions? Find ways to honour your ancestors through ritual, offerings, prayers, dreams, food, art, stories, etc. Recognise the global lineages of herbal medicine others carry in their own histories. Encourage others to discover their ancestral plant traditions if they feel called to explore them. Create and build resources for rediscovery and remembering. Were your ancestors involved in the colonisation of indigenous peoples and lands? There is healing and repair to be done, and it’s in our hands now. Find the ways can you help repair the damage that continues to be done to native peoples and lands.
Be Present with Wounds & Pain – Recognise the wounds you and others carry from colonisation & oppression. Listen to indigenous and POC voices; listen to communities who have been marginalised and harmed for centuries. Reach into these past wounds, explore them in the present. Learn about how your ancestors and pagan/plant/earth-centred traditions were colonised. What has been lost or broken due to the effects of colonisation? Feel if there are places in your ancestry and lineage you choose to avoid because of the pain present there. Explore the ways colonisation and oppression have impacted you, your ancestors, your communities, and your ways of living. Understand how your ancestral traditions and lineages are still being colonised today. Create space for retreat, rest, joy, laughter, ease, compassion, love, and sweetness within the wounded places whenever you can. Find support in any form as these wounds arise – from yourself, the plant realms, animals, nature, your community…
Space for Grieving & Mourning – Allow space for grief, anger, and pain to arise. Acknowledge many wounds are continuing to deepen daily. Understand healing will often be slow as it is individual and collective. Bring ourselves and each other patience, understanding, and compassion in all ways we can. Know the pain and emotions connected to these wounds will continue to arise; there is no timeline for the grief to end while colonisation and oppression continues. Reach into your communities for support, care, witnessing, listening, strength, inspiration, and resilience. Spend time with those who can hold your grief. Create medicines for grief, anger, fatigue, depression, etc. that result from the pain of oppression and colonisation.
Herbal Healing for Oppression / Colonisation – Include and recognise the wounds of oppression and colonisation in your healing practice. Recognise the ways racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, environmental/resource destruction, lack of access, poverty, past/present colonisation, and other forms of oppression play in people’s health and wellbeing. Include these impacts in discussions of health and healing. Understand the ways physical, mental, and emotional illnesses can result from layers of continued oppression. Recognise how environmental degradation most greatly impacts marginalised and indigenous communities. Acknowledge that we can only serve our whole community well if we understand the depths of what impacts their health.
All Herbal Traditions & Lineages Represented – Represent diverse herbal traditions from all continents/lineages/cultures in libraries and books, print, conferences, websites, references, workshops, and herbal communities. Share resources, teachers, organisations, community projects, and herbal medicine being practiced by people all over the world, especially those who have been marginalised and under-represented. Recognise and work to transform the white (European-descent) dominated field of herbalism where only certain voices are generally valued, heard, or recognised in print and in person. Acknowledge the ways scientific and European ideologies are still elevated in the field of popular herbalism, while many American’s herbal traditions (immigrant, indigenous, or African enslaved descent) are ignored, tokenised, under-represented, or silenced. Recognise how only certain non-European traditions of healing such as TCM or Ayurveda are given value by Westerners over other herbal lineages. Understand the impacts of under-representing the herbal healing traditions and healing lineages of marginalised peoples.
Recognition & Inclusion of Individual & Community Voices – Include a diversity of individual voices, perspectives, and traditions in the realms of healing and plant medicine. Share and include the ways all people have rich indigenous histories and lineages of herbal wisdom. Give equal opportunity and platforms for individuals to share the healing wisdom and herbal traditions of their community/family/ancestry with large audiences, resulting in greater access herbal knowledge by marginalised communities. Recognise many individuals still practice herbal medicine in their families and communities. Acknowledge how many healing traditions have been broken, changed, or eradicated within families/communities through centuries of violent colonisation that continues today. See and value the resiliency of many individuals, communities, and traditions who have carried their healing traditions with them through the impacts of colonisation. Share their voices and increase their reach for the wellbeing of more communities.
Include & Represent Oral Histories – Do not legitimise written knowledge over orally transmitted knowledge. Understand the importance, strengths, benefits, and rich history of oral herbal traditions around the world. Place high value on oral and familial traditions, rather than always elevating knowledge that has turned into print/books/writing. Choose not to elevate teachers or plant medicine people who have published books or written down their knowledge over those who have not published or written. Many wisdom carriers and medicine people never will write down their knowledge or publish a book. Many of them will also go unrecognised by larger audiences, but are greatly valued by their local communities. Choose not to elevate and promote certain herbal healers/practitioners as more knowledgeable simply because they have published books in western forms. Consider other ways of determining expertise and value in individual knowledge such as community endorsement, history of practice/experience, and personal recommendations.
Balance of Wisdom Sources – Do not place higher value/elevate scientific Western information over indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and science. Be careful when using Western scientific ideologies, knowing colonisation has impacted all of our minds to place higher value/wisdom on those with Western scientific knowledge or training. Actively fight and speak against this form of oppression and supremacy. When using scientific language and information, balance this with self-informed, body-centred, holistic, experiential, magical, indigenous, and spiritual information gathering. Include indigenous perspectives on ecology, body systems, health, plants, nutrition, etc. from their own voices and communities.
Mindfulness of Cultural Appropriation – Be mindful of using healing or spiritual practices that do not belong to your culture and lineage. Understand dynamics of oppression and marginalisation that have led to the commodification/stealing of traditional wisdom and culture. Educate others on cultural appropriation and right relationship. Acknowledge the many sources that have contributed to the healing wisdom you carry, some of which was stolen or appropriated. Choose not to perpetuate the colonising and silencing of indigenous people/lineages, instead actively engaging in questioning and changing appropriative behaviour. Directly support indigenous and marginalised communities/individuals. Be aware of consuming the culture of oppressed peoples while not supporting their communities and individual voices. Choose not to share information or practices that weren’t given to you to share by a wider culture (vs. one individual or one organisation within a larger culture). Recognise the importance of people sharing their own culture’s herbal wisdom and practices that belong to them. This supports their wellbeing, their community, the earth as a whole, and their abundance/career!
Elevate Marginalised Voices & Herbal Traditions – Help bring the voices and wisdom of marginalised/oppressed communities to the forefront who have been often silenced. Recognise that communities who have been the most harmed by colonisation/capitalism/white supremacy (including non-human) have the most wisdom concerning both the impacts and the changes needed for the wellbeing of all on earth. Allow marginalised communities to lead/advocate the way forward in transforming systems of oppression within the herbalism/natural healing community. Support their visions, leadership, and creativity. Listen and share their voices with larger audiences. Recognise the importance of their wisdom both within their communities and for the larger world. Fight for equal space/opportunity to share, teach, and advocate for their communities. Respect boundaries around what people do not wish to share to wider audiences outside of their own community. Some things are not to be shared due to what happens when practices are taken out of imbedded context & relationships.
Herbal Traditions are Spiritual Traditions – Herbal traditions in every part of the world and throughout history have been infused deeply with spiritual beliefs, practices, and rituals specific to each culture. Some practices such as drumming, music making, sacred smoke/incense, prayer, songs, dance, sacred offerings, communication with earth spirits, and working with intelligences/energies in nature are common to all lineages/healing traditions around the world, though specific practices vary from culture to culture. Removing spiritual practice from herbalism, and choosing to work with plants only as physical chemical substances is part of more recent Western ideology and colonisation. Cultures that relate to plants as spirits/sentient conscious beings (who teach us directly), are devalued in Western/coloniser culture. Including spiritual herbal traditions and ways of relating to plants spiritually/sacredly is a part of decolonising herbalism. By not recognising or advocating for the value of spiritual herbal healing traditions results in continued colonisation and oppression of individuals and indigenous lineages of healing. As Europe’s spiritual healing traditions were also colonised, denying/discouraging those of European descent to access their own rich lineages of spiritual traditions in herbalism and natural healing continues their colonisation/harm as well. Devaluing those who blend Western scientific and spiritual ways of partnering with plants in healing also contributes to continued oppression and colonisation. Acknowledge whose wisdom you value and why.
Do Not Elevate Western Titles/Terms – Not all herbalists call themselves herbalists, not all healers call themselves a healer. Choose not to elevate Western titles or terms that in turn esteem and value their knowledge or practices over those without Western titles. Recognise that many skilled herbalists use different titles/terms for themselves, some with no titles at all. Many herbalists work from their home helping to support their family and community, with only receiving local recognition. In many communities everyone practices plant medicine, and certain people or elders take on greater roles of keeping wisdom, stories, and traditions passed on through the generations. Harvesting and preparing medicine are also frequently shared in communities. Acknowledge the roles within herbal medicine vary through cultures, all being of great value and importance to the wellbeing of the whole community. Choose not to place lesser value/wisdom/esteem on those who engage in growing, harvesting, medicine making etc, over those who choose to write, publish books, practice in offices, or teach. Recognise whose wisdom you give greater value to based on what their titles or chosen roles are in the realm of plant medicine. Understand that what people practice/do does not encompass the breadth of their experience or wisdom.
Do Not Elevate Western Training or Tools – Choose not to perpetuate the elevation of Western forms of herbal training. Indigenous/traditional forms of herbal training/wisdom-sharing are often slowly passed on orally over many years, experientially based (vs. book study), relationship focused, guided by elders, impeded in landscape and relationship to the land, infused with ceremony/ritual, spiritual teachings, ancestral honouring, history, and are always growing/transforming. Be mindful of elevating western tools, terms, language, books, and training within the realm of plant medicine. Consider if you are continuing to colonise, ignore, suppress, or diminish the value of non-scientific/western ways of learning plant medicine. Question the impacts of your ways of teaching and practicing. Consider the source of the tools, terms, and languages you are using. Understand and acknowledge the imbedded culture, system, and ideologies you are practicing from, and how they might harm/oppress others.
Tokenising or Exotifying Indigenous Cultures – Coloniser cultures often invite/include “token” individuals or practices of marginalised/oppressed groups as a way to feel they are representing/including/elevating or listening to these cultures or communities. Work to create a norm in which marginalised cultures and lineages are represented equally and in their own voices. Recognise that if your space/community is still oppressing others in many ways, marginalised/oppressed people or communities will not desire to connect or be included in your spaces. Exotifying indigenous cultures other than your own is a form of colonising, objectifying, and stealing from indigenous/oppressed peoples. Most often the voices and needs of their communities and individuals are ignored. Acknowledge how indigenous ways of living, songs/words/prayers, herbal practices, ceremonies, or spirituality is exotified and often valued highly over non-indigenous/Western culture/lineage/traditions, often leading to coveting and commodification. Support everyone in exploring their own indigenous root cultures, ancestries, and lineages of folk (and spiritual) plant medicine. Encourage ancestral lineage exploration. Explore rootedness to land and community through the lens of colonisation, past and present.
Notes & Comments – As this is a working document in process, comments, additions, clarifications, or changes suggested are welcomed – Please send to Sage at firstname.lastname@example.org
To download a PDF of this list, visit http://www.thegreenwoman.com/DECOLONIZING-HERBALISM.pdf