Ontario man goes virtual with grandma’s teachings on traditional medicine

“There’s something special that she has, a special knowledge,” says Joe Pitawanakwat

Joe Pitawanakwat knows a lot about traditional medicine.

But it isn’t something that he grew up learning.  His interest in medicines began after a visit back home in Wiikwemkoong, on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, with his grandmother about 10 years ago.

“I realized that there’s something special that she has, a special knowledge, and you know what I did is, I started finding the plants that she was talking about bringing them to her and she would confirm yes, that’s it or no you’re wrong,” said Pitawanakwat.

“Me and my wife, we had this like five-year-long scavenger hunt, finding all of the different plants with my grandma’s little descriptions of the way they look and then, yeah, we started being providers of medicine.”

Joe Pitawanakwat with a handful of bark from four different trees to make women’s medicine. Photo courtesy: Steve Mongeau.

Pitawanakwat then began travelling to communities across northern Ontario, sharing his knowledge and skills of how to use the plant-based medicines.

But last spring, when the pandemic hit, his travels came to an abrupt stop.  He had to find a new way to continue his work from his home in Peterborough, Ont.  After consulting with elders, he bought a camera, streaming gear and expanded his Facebook page, called Creators Garden.

“This is the first time we’re going to take a medicine, teach how to find it, harvest, process it, brew it and during the live stream, we’re going to talk about each one of those plants and what they do.”

Now Pitawanakwat’s days are busier than ever, when he isn’t in the wood in the Peterborough area with his camera, he’s streaming the lessons online. According to Pitawanakwat, every day is booked.

That’s why his friend Matt Levac stepped in to help. It’s something he enjoys.

“Just being able to look at plants and trees and stuff for more than just firewood or scrap material right, there’s so much more that those plants offer and they’re telling it to you and so just being able to learn that language and speak with the plants and everything”, said Levac.

Matt Levac recording Joe Pitawanakwat, as he makes a tradional tea of women’s medicine. Photo courtesy: Annette Francis.

Now due to the high demand, they’ve started working on a new monthly program to be streamed for the public.

“The interest is so high and there’s an outrageous amount of emails, that I only want to do that once a month, so we’ll do like women’s medicine, we might do a mental health and addictions or a mental health and addictions session, smoking cessation is another really common one.”

They’ll focus on all of the medicines that can be created during the coming months.

“People are going to want to watch the stream, actually get out and do it and so because there’s nothing else to do.” Pitawanakwat said.

Anyone interested in learning more about Pitawanakwat’s online programs can find Creators Garden on Facebook. 

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