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Oral History Is a Powerful Legacy

I was watching my little boys play the other day.  They are eleven months old now.  One of them had a cell phone in his hand, which I was comfortable with as he doesn’t know the password – ha, ha!  The next thing I knew, he was joined by his brother and they were attempting to open a game I frequently play.  Everything they know, they’ve learned by watching the people in their lives.  And I was struck by the thought that if a child who can’t even speak is able to learn so much through the power of observation, how much more so when those actions are followed up with words, lessons, regarding life?

When European explorers came to North America and met the First people indigenous to the land, their lives were saved when they were given nourishment to cure them of scurvy.  But how did the Aboriginal people even know about scurvy or how to cure it?  At what point in their history did they not have enough fruit and vegetables that they understood what scurvy looked like and how to cure it?  Too bad they didn’t have the same insights when it came to Smallpox decades later, and the disease was used as a tool to annihilate so many of them by the descendants of the same people they’d saved!  

I made a mug of tea as my boys played on the floor.  And I looked at the great selection of teas I have to choose from.  Of course there is my ‘go to’ Red Rose tea, the one that reminds me of my Grandmother who immigrated to Canada with her family when she was about ten years old.  They came from England so tea was always a part of our visit at Grandma’s house.  Then I thought of Mrs. McInnes, a lovely woman who had incredibly poor eyesight and you would never know it.  She made her own tea blends.  My mother and I would go to visit her at her home near Christopher Lake and she would be out weeding her garden, pulling out the plants to touch and sniff them, then replant any seedlings she might have mistakenly pulled.  She may not have been able to see, but she saw more than I did with my glasses on.  She built an addition onto her house so she would have a room large enough to quilt in.  We would have our tea then take our conversation into the quilting room.  I stitched carefully but she soon came over to check my stitches, holding the material close to her face to “see” so that I wouldn’t notice her fingertips moving over my work.  She nodded her head in satisfaction, placed the quilt back at my lap and moved back to her own work.  I felt such a surge of pride knowing I’d earned her approval.  

The other teas in my selection include dandelion, cone flower, strawberry, blue berry and raspberry, rose hip, burdock and muskeg tea.  Of course there is the traditional black, green and white teas as well but I wonder who ever thought to look at the new growth on a spruce tree and pick them to make a tea out of it?  Was this knowledge derived from watching the animals to understand when food sources were scarce, nature had other ways to take care of each other?  

As I read and learn more about my Aboriginal ancestors traditional ways of life I’m inspired to learn more and practice what I’m learning in my daily life.  Picking the new growth off the spruce tree in my back yard, I go online to a Facebook group I belong to in order to see how exactly I should make my spruce tip tea.  Another lady has posted her harvest and how she made her tea.  She suggests not allowing the water to come to a rolling boil as it will hurt the spruce tips and it won’t allow the oils to be released properly as the pods will be burnt.  Other people comment as well and they give advice on the pot and mugs one should use.  They say ceramic is best because it won’t change or affect the spruce tips like copper or metal will.  Once the hot water is poured over the spruce tips, it is recommended to cover the mug of tea pot for five to ten minutes and let everything steep so the oils from the tips will be released into the water.  I imagine this is much the same as warming up a lemon and then rolling it against the cutting board before cutting it open to juice it.  Warming the lemon then abusing it by rolling releases more of its juices when using it.  Once the tea has steeped to ones desired strength, strain out the tips and it’s ready to consume. Drink the tea as is, with honey, or allow it to cool for drinking later in the day.  One final suggestion I noticed was putting a large jar of water with whatever tea flavouring you wish outside in the sun.  The sun’s rays warm the water and, as you work or relax outside, you can take servings from the jar and replace the water and tea as needed.  The belief is that there are different properties released in the tea using the sun’s rays.  And others suggested using moon water to make tea from.  Moon water is made by simply placing jars of water outside during full moon.  I know it sounds far-fetched however; western bakers often leave yeast outside in different locations to make the starter for sourdough bread so it’s only logical this was inspired from somewhere – why not with sunbeam or moon beam tea?

All I know is, watching my boys’ play I realize how much the world has changed even since my daughter was born twelve years ago.  My six year old can use a touch screen computer but not a traditional lap top computer, simply because he’s not able to spell the words and use a search engine yet.  At the same time, we are losing skills that I value – such as cursive handwriting and actual books.  People don’t write letters anymore and they do their reading online.  And we are losing the art of conversation.  I am the first to admit, I’m terrible at talking with people.  I can write but I’m tongue tied and nervous when speaking with others.  More often than not, I end up expressing one faux paus or another and leave with my foot in my mouth, apologizing, and my face is red with embarrassment.  And when I really embarrass myself, I need to find a quiet spot by myself as I involuntarily cry. 

The importance of oral history and ways of living are so important to us, even now.  So when you’re learning, don’t forget to teach as well.  Share your knowledge with others so they can benefit from it as well.  And write it down!  Don’t allow it to be lost as progress makes us think what we know isn’t of benefit in today’s day and age of technology.  We couldn’t be more wrong with that way of thinking.  Everything can be adapted and useful, even when we don’t necessarily have the appreciation to understand its’ value at the time.  As for me, I will continue learning and sharing when I can.  And I will continue to marvel at the growth of my children and the way they are learning by watching what I do and say.  They are an incredible gift that I learn from every day.

Have a great week, everyone.  

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