Making Medicine Pouches

I love my aunt. She’s always been like a second mother to me. Especially these last years, when my own mother failed, my aunt, as so often, was forced to be the safe harbour in which our family finds shelter.

My aunt is surprising. She stays up late and at 88 years old, still likes to travel. If there are potatoes to dig, she just might go dig them. She’s tough – and still, in the ways that count, old fashioned.

But not old fashioned in many other ways. We did something together tonight that I never thought we would do. We made and tied medicine pouches, with elk leather and sweetgrass from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. The pouches are destined to be used as gifts here in Saskatchewan.

A big part of pilgrimage is learning how to receive the kindness of others. We haven’t even really begun our local Camino – this North West Mounted Police Patrol Trail pilgrimage – and so far there have already been meals, a donated vehicle, and beds to keep us sheltered until we put up our tents.

But part of pilgrimage is also recognizing what gifts we strangers bring with us to these lands we cross, and bringing physical evidence of such gifts with us. That is why I have the sweetgrass and the red string from the Mohawk, for some of the First Nations and Metis people we will meet here. I read recently that even though the Mohawk almost never came this far west, there was a group of them that overwintered, in the 19th century, in the Cypress Hills, where so many other First Nations gathered in the final, collapsing days of the bison hunting economy.

I wonder what those Mohawk saw, and thought. My aunt and I cut the leather and together wrapped up the sweetgrass. It felt like something blessed to be doing this with her, my aunt with whom so often I’ve gone to church and sung hymns as well. Someone with whom I hold this land, this prairie, in common. I held the pouch up to her nose: that smells so good, I said. Doesn’t it. That smell of leather.

She smiled. Or maybe what smells so good, she answered, is the sweetgrass.

Isabelle and the pouches

5 thoughts on “Making Medicine Pouches

  1. Your aunt is very special.. I hope you are prepared for the extreme weather this journey may bring. Lately it has been very stormy and wet. Before that it was dry and hot and dusty. The nights (especially at Wood Mountain) can be very cold. Perhaps you will have the wonderful calm prairie summer days that seem to on forever – perfect in every way. Mosquitos have not been a problem this year so far but the deer flies are always trying to bite. The Trail has not been used for almost a hundred years. Local government decided that fences would help keep peace and prevent disagreements. Everyone had to travel on trails (and later roads) based on a grid system. The Trail has many tales but most events were never recorded and now are long forgotten. Every day will bring many wonders if you are really looking and listening. Greetings to all who are going on this long walk. Did you bring a Red River cart? In a few places you can still see the ruts. Perhaps we have been thinking of you. The last two Sundays in our church we have sang appropriate hymns. We sang “We are pilgrims on a journey, fellow travellers on the road.” by Richard Gillard. We also sang “One more step along the world I go – -from the old things to the new, keep me traveling along with you.” by Sydney Carter .Safe travels. See you in a day or so. Written south of the Trail in Milly /Summercove area.

    • Dear Audrey, thank you for this lovely response to my post! We are here in with Mountain, in the campground, getting ready for our first morning of walking. Everything that you have said seems to be true! We had a long rain tonight, just after we set up our tents. In addition, it’s gotten quite cold.I appreciate what you say about the trail. I’m sure that I will learn a lot from you, from Hugh, and from many of the others that we encounter along the route. It has started already, with the two pilgrims that I am here with besides hugh: Haydn, and Rick. But you are right about the extreme weather! Lots going on here it seems. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of days. Matthew

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