There was something familiar and comforting about the bus. A crowd of people painted green vines and flowers on the exterior as it sat parked in a field near Frank’s Landing during the Indigenous Environmental Network’s annual Protecting Mother Earth Conference, held earlier this month.
This bus was indeed an old friend. It has a lot of history helping indigenous people; it served as a kitchen and then a treatment center for the Medic + Healer Council at the Standing Rock water protector camps. Now it’s been transformed into a bus for the Canoe Journey Herbalists, who are currently accompanying the approximately two-week-long annual Native American traditional canoe gathering along the Pacific coast of Washington and Canada. The journey is expected to culminate in a final stop in Puyallup, Washington, on July 28. Over 100 canoes from more than 70 tribes registered to participate this year.
Midwife Rhonda Grantham of the Cowlitz tribe is one of the herbalists accompanying the journey.
Although Grantham and other healers with the Canoe Journey Herbalists are prepared to tend to the sore muscles and throats as well as sunburned and mosquito-bitten skin of canoe pullers, their mission is far greater.
“This is about decolonizing herbalism,” Grantham said.
The Canoe Journey Herbalists includes other skilled healers volunteering their time and efforts in creating a mobile herbal healing bus to serve canoe pullers along the canoe journey route. The bus has housed this kind of work before.
The bus that herbalists will use to serve patients was originally used by Standing Rock water protectors. It was donated by volunteer groups Rising Tide North America and the Beehive Design Collective, said Linda Black Elk of the Catawba Nation. Black Elk is an instructor in ethnobotany at Standing Rock Tribal College and member of the Standing Rock Medic + Healer Council.