Margaret Chilly Davies stepped out of her cabin with her favorite book of herbs and a cup of laboom tea in her hand. Her thirst for traditional knowledge started at an early age but excelled when she was 18 years old after meeting a herbalist. Since then, with a spirited Métis artist’s heart, she has been on a path of learning the traditional wonders of nature and sharing her knowledge as much as she can. She believes God has put everything on earth to heal and wants to learn about the endless possibilities’ medicines rooted in nature have. She lives a simple pioneer life on the land that has been in her family for over 150 years. Her grandfather, William Davies, settled down in Faust, Alberta from Wales, United Kingdom, and made a home for himself. Her parents, George Henry Davis and Louise Andrews, met at Menses fish plant when they were 18 years old. Her cabin has no running water, electricity, or a bathroom, but when she looks around and sees the abundance of what is important to her, she is truly grateful.
She walked down the embankment towards her childhood homestead with her faithful dog and cat, Honeybee and Six toes, by her side. She shouts out “Good morning” to nature’s orchestra. The birds replied to her with a song, the rooster with a cock-a-doodle-doo, the cats meowed in unison, the bees buzzed, the chickens clucked, and the butterflies danced. There was not much left of what once existed except for the outline of the old root cellar, her grandfather’s plow, and the lingering ghosts. Suddenly, she heard it, it was faint, but she swore it was there, just like it had always been. The sound of her father’s swede saw echoing through the trees. She turned her head to the far corner of the land, just past the fence where he used to cut down trees for firewood, but he wasn’t there. Her dad, who always smelled of wood, was the hardest working man she knew, and he did whatever was needed to provide for his family and their community. He passed away when she was 12 years old; she still thinks of him and the life of what should have been. She looked over to the other side of the homestead and saw what was left of the rope used to hang from tree to tree. It was her childhood swing, and every time it broke, her grandfather fixed it for her. A smile crossed her face as she remembered the laughter of the curious dirty face child she once was. A young girl with a zest for life playing and exploring for hours until her mom called her back home.
Her mother, now that was a woman, she could talk about all day long. She was her best friend, and they did everything together. Her mom worked endlessly caring for her seven children, and when she had time, she walked two miles into town to pick up odd jobs here and there, doing what she could for extra money. She missed her mom every day and would give anything to hear her voice again. If she could have one wish, it would be to have the traditional knowledge of herbs and medicines she has now to help save her from cancer that took her life.
She shook her head from the memories and finished the last bit of her laboom tea. She could have stayed there all day remembering, but there was work to be done and set out on her way into nature’s medicine cabinet.
There are medicines all around us and have been for centuries. All of the plants needed to treat various ailments and conditions are on the land, in our own backyard. She walked slowly, taking great care in harvesting herbs and medicines. When she teaches others, she shares with them all that she knows. The times of year and seasons to harvest certain herbs and when they are a most impactful healing resource. She always ensures people understand the necessary knowledge behind what is needed, its purpose, and to take only what you need. It was the end of summer, and she wanted to replenish her stock for the winter months before the plants turned brown. Yarrow, clover, raspberry leaves, and mint are what she was looking for that day. She had plans to go out later in the afternoon by the lake and dig for rat root. She used these plants as medicines either in tea or a paste for the common cold, bug bites, infections, asthma, iron deficiency, and certain cancers.
After a long day of collecting herbs, cleaning, and hanging them to dry, she sat down beside the newly stocked wood stove for warmth and felt very thankful for Nature. It gives us life and the opportunities to learn the knowledge behind plants and the many healing purposes. She looked around her home and felt such peace and gratitude for the life she has and thought to herself, “We are only here for a little while, then we are gone, so love hard and always be kind…”
“See what I did, Mom?” she said out loud with a smile. “I hope you are happy.”
Editors Note: Lorna Dancey is a Canadian photojournalist working on a storytelling and photography project called the Knowledge keepers Diary. She travels to remote areas documenting Metis Elders and Knowledge holders, capturing their memories of history and culture.