Manitoba drought leaves women's centres short on sage for smudging, medicinal uses
'The places we normally go, the medicines are really low,' says program co-ordinator
Indigenous women's centres in Winnipeg say their supply of natural medicines is short this summer due to Manitoba's drought conditions.
The West Central Women's Resource Centre says it's in need of prairie sage, which has been difficult to gather in usual picking spots during recent outings.
"It's kind of scary for our medicines. The places we normally go, the medicines are really low," said Jolene Wilson, the co-ordinator for the centre's Restoring the Balance support program, which draws on traditional Indigenous values and teachings.
Sage is one of four medicines considered sacred in some First Nations cultures and is used for smudging, a practice that Wilson says "helps to clear the air, your mind, and brings a calming effect."
"It's the women's medicine, so it's one here that we go through a lot of," said Wilson. "Community members come and ask for it when they need it. It's usually every day we have somebody in need."
The centre normally has a group of women go out and gather sage, "but this year is awful," she said — not just because of the drought but because of the heat as well.
The type of sage used in cooking, which might be more readily available, isn't generally used for smudging, Wilson said, because it is quite strong.
She put a call out on Twitter in July asking for donations of sage, or help from people with property where it is growing.
She says so far the centre has received some from the community, but not enough to get through the rest of the year.
"We really appreciate it. It goes out just as fast as it comes in sometimes."
Stunted growth in dry soil
Wilson notes sage is a plant that thrives in dry soil, but it does need some moisture to reach maturity.
"The plant isn't growing very high, and then it's seeding quicker than it normally does," she said.
"My worry is that it's seeding quicker [so] the pods will open and drop the seeds, but the seeds are going to burn up, because there's no moisture to bring them to the ground."
Little Mountain Park, Birds Hill Provincial Park and Beaudry Provincial Park are some of the usual places to pick sage in the community, Wilson says. Some grows in Assiniboine Forest, but those plants are smaller than normal as well, she said.
Picking sage when the plant is too small is not advisable, she said, because you want to leave as much of the plant behind as possible so there is regrowth for the next year.
Gladys Marinko, a knowledge keeper at the North Point Douglas Women's Centre, has also noticed there's less sage than usual this year.
She often takes community members out for sage picking around the city.
"We were very low on sage — our basket was pretty empty," she said.
After the group put out a call for sage, "we did get some — [now] the basket is full, but you know, with the using of medicines often, we tend to run out."
'Hoping and praying for rain'
It's not only traditional Indigenous medicine that's scarce right now, Marinko said — fruit used for baking is also hard to find.
Saskatoons are already dried out, she said.
"A friend of mine goes to pick blueberries," which she uses in pies for the centre's annual pergoy dinner, Marinko said.
Marinko said she's worried that because of the effects of climate change, a lack of medicinal plants will become an issue for the Indigenous community.
"Each year, I see more and more people healing, and we use the medicines more. I feel like there's a need to learn about sustainability, [which] is really important … and not over-picking places."
"I'd imagine the sweetgrass [also used in smudging] there isn't very good," said Wilson.
"The whole drought thing is really concerning as far as our plants and our lands. I'm hoping and praying for rain every day.
"That's one of my main prayers right now — that it rains all over Turtle Island."