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Amplify #16 Jazmin Pirozek - Cree Ethnobotanist and Traditional Healer

Jazmin Pirozek is of Kinosao Sipi, Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba and lives in Kenora, Ontario. She is a student of Maestro Juan Flores, a Plant Medicine Teacher of the Peruvian Amazon. Jazmin serves Northern Ontario indigenous populations in Canada through teaching and aiding in the remembering of plant medicine teachings lost due to colonization. She has received her master’s degree in Biology, focusing on Boreal Forest Ethnobotany, as well, she is a graduate of Boreal Forest Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology.

In this edition of Amplify, let’s learn more about colonization, generational trauma and Jazmin’s work with Boreal plants and indigenous communities.

This interview was conducted and transcribed by Lizzy Heller and condensed for clarity.

Photo of Jazmin

WOOP: Can you share a little about your indigenous background and indigenous culture?

Jazmin: I’m a country-born person, my dad was Ukrainian and my mom is Cree Ojibwe. I was raised in the Kenora region and my community is Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba Kennesaw CP. I live in northwestern Ontario now which is very close to Winnipeg. In anthropology, we call it the intersection of tribes diffusion.

There are many people that are in the northern communities that are Oji Cree which was the diffusion of Ojibwe and Cree as they traveled from the West. Then the Ojibwe from the South kind of intersect as well. Their culture became diffused so they speak both Oji Cree and Ojibwe and we say it Anishinaabe Mowen which is how to speak in Ojibwe.

My family is what we call “country-born folk” in anthropology. I’m a mixed breed and that means I am a country-born people integrated with the non-native people. My family was extremely colonized, my grandma and grandpa would never say they’re indigenous people. It’s obvious they were, but at the time it wasn’t ok to be an indigenous person and try to be part of the economy. My grandfather was able to sell fish at the fish market in Kenora on the Lake of the Woods.

My other grandmother married a white rich man who had built this community. They both spoke the language of Ojibwe and they lived out of the French Portage Narrows on the Lake of the Woods until 1968. My grandparents moved there since they were aging and would use the plant medicines to recover from their sickness. When the kids got diarrhea we would use Red Willow to dry it up and it works really well. Getting a doctor in the area was very difficult, so we would use plant medicine.

I was raised Catholic to “save my soul” as my mom and dad used to say which was very common among many indigenous people in Northern Ontario. Many were very Christian, usually Anglican, even though we know it was because of colonization that we’re Christian, people still have really deep faith. I found that in the Kenora region many of the indigenous people are not ok with Christianity so they kind of shut the door on this group of indigenous people that still believe in Jesus, God and the Bible.

There’s this dichotomy of conflicting views between different indigenous groups. They are first nations and they have their own laws, own way of living and everyone is very different. Like Sandy Lake is extremely different from Moose Cree people, Algonquian people in Southern Ontario are very different from the Cree in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Alberta. Everyone is very different and you can’t lump us all in one, but that is what the government does. I’m registered in a community that I was never raised in.

WOOP: What led you to study and work with boreal plants and begin healing the indigenous people of Canada?

Jazmin: When I was 26 years old I started getting some numbness in the bottom of my right foot. I went to a neurologist and he told me I was likely to develop MS at the age of 35. At the time I was a young, healthy, beautiful, smart student at the University in Thunder Bay with a bright and shiny horizon in front of me that all came crashing down. Doctors know they have this power over your mind so this took me over in a big way and every night I would just be crying before bed.

My boyfriend started doing research and had me read somebody’s account of their ayahuasca ceremony. At the time I didn’t know anything about it and as I read I was amazed and it really inspired me. Back then, I was in a really dark place and had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t think it would help me but thought it was just an experience that I should have before I would decide to leave this world.

I went to an indigenous counselor at my school and told her that I wanted to study. I had never really done psychedelics before. She got me in contact with someone and four months later I had my first ayahuasca ceremony. I was completely floored, my socks were knocked off. I could see all the plants, the animals, the bugs crawling on me.At the end of the ceremony I was still laying there and I got this image of the teacher who made the medicine.

I had seen him before in a National Geographic France article and he was sitting on a rock at the Boiling River in Northern Peru and stands up and looks at me and says I should come to Peru. So, I trusted my gut and four months later my boyfriend and I set off for the Boiling River in Peru.

I had wonderful ayahuasca ceremonies there and sat down with the teacher and told him what the doctors told me. He said don’t worry about it and I asked if I could be a student and he said that would happen in time. At the end of this visit there were celebrations which were called Viladas. There were people from all over the world, Argentina, Mexico, Spain and my boyfriend and I became godparents for these two women from Mexico, these maestros. It basically meant we would sign a certificate like you would for a baptism and say yes. This person is a shaman, but we were instituted into the family right away. I ended up going back 6 months later for about a month and a half and became a student of maestro Juan Flores.

I began drinking the plant three times a day. I was eating clean for 5-6 weeks and had no symptoms of the disease anymore. I started learning more about my teacher and he said he had a vision of the healing of North America and our continent (as we like to call Turtle Island). He had a vision that there was a white bear which are either considered spirit bears because they were born white and supposed to be black or brown or polar bears.

Usually when we refer to the word Manitoba it means the spirit bear. Manitoba means "the place where the creator sits" referring to the Canadian Shield rock formation. This is what is heavy here, pulling many energies around and such. The spirit bear is the healer of our region and he had a vision of this spirit bear getting a Suplado from heaven; a blessing from heaven. Suplado means blowing and in an ayahuasca ceremony you get this blessing with tobacco and perfume. The bear was getting a blessing from God or from the great spirit and all of the healing energy was going through the bear down South.

The healing was going to come from the North and the indigenous people needed help and he could help them. So, I have incrementally educated everyone that I could about the use of ayahuasca, but also the use of plant medicine. This is why I started working with plant medicine. Now I’m 36 and can still walk and talk and breath and have yet to develop this illness.

WOOP: What is plant medicine to you and what are some of the plants you work with?

Jazmin: I don’t actually work with Psychedelics, I work with Boreal plants. Not everybody uses psychedelic medicine and it’s totally not ok in many of the communities just because it’s very sensitive to use psychedelics in general. I teach regular boreal forest medicine in the daily lives of people who suffer with diabetes or heart conditions or stress-related- they’re all stress-related illnesses. I’m an indigenous person who drinks psychedelics.

That’s how I got into the plant medicine because once I drank the ayahuasca, it uncovered everything that was inside me. I even attribute getting pregnant to ayahuasca and the ayahuasca path and eating well. Its not just the ayahuasca, sometimes the teacher will ship non psychoactive plant medicines from South America that are really awesome and used for healing.

When I was studying for my Masters degree, I would read all the science about all the boreal forest plants. I could remember everything I saw during my ceremonies and could apply it because I was using Ayahuasca.

The science of Ayahuasca is that it promotes the growth of the hippocampus which is where short term memory goes into long term memory and if you hold onto short term memory for at least 8 seconds it goes into your long term memory.

And a little bit South of me, near Lake Superior, there are mushrooms that grows there, the Mario mushroom, that we don’t ingest to get intoxicated, but we ingest it for energy, sight and clarity. That was a traditional medicine of the Nishnabe of the area. I have ladies pick it in Fort William first Nation and ship it to me because some of the best Amani grows in their area.

photo of jazmin playing music

WOOP: What happened to the indigenous people of Canada due to colonization and the loss of these traditional practices?

Jazmin: There were trading companies here, especially in Ontario, and one was called Hudson’s Bay. The company had trading posts that they kept very close to many of the indigenous places where they would bring in things from Europe and the South like flour, sugar, and sugarcane.

Over time indigenous people started moving closer and closer to these posts. Hudson’s Bay believed they owned all the land in Canada. When confederation happened in Canada in 1872 and we became a country, the country had to buy the land off of the Hudson’s Bay company. They didn’t own it, but the federal government paid Hudson’s Bay for the land. However, the federal government can’t hold land according to their laws so they had to sell it to the provinces. We have two governments, the federal government and the provincial government which is by individual states or portions.

When the federal government gave the land to the provincial government they had to pay for it. There was interest that was accruing which one went to the Queen because we were still a monarchy, one to the government and one to the indigenous people. The indigenous people are literal stakeholders in that which is called the consolidated revenue fund which is the CRA- considered the IRS in the US.

The indigenous people don’t pay for dental or health insurance, but they cut us off every now and then when we actually have rights to trillions and trillions of dollars. There’s this document that says until indigenous people were smart enough or adequate enough to be able to be in charge of the Treasury, the Queen and her agents would be in charge of this account.

This matters because there was a point around 1872 where Canada started signing treaties with many of the indigenous groups and we got pushed into communities. Before this we were nomadic, so we would follow the herd or follow the seasonal rounds. Many indigenous people in Canada function this way, except for the west coast because they were very abundant, their history is a little different. To have a treaty means I have a treaty card and a number and I can cross the border and get my dental paid for. Some people call them benefits, but they are our rights.

So we sent money to the Queen and because they were master colonizers we had to follow their way, learn their language, way of being. But it turns out that their food was killing everybody. It wasn’t just the food though it was also the residential schools. Especially in my town of Kenora, Ontario.

WOOP: What are some ongoing consequences of colonization and intergenerational trauma on native or indigenous communities?

Jazmin: There’s this story by Gord Downie about a young man who walked home from a residential school here in Kenora and he had to walk 3000/4000 kilometers in the freezing snow and passed away. It’s not just to that one young boy that this has happened. All these kids were being sexually molested and having food experiments done to them in these schools. This is what colonization did. They wanted to breed the Indian out of you- and that’s why we don’t use that word now.

Residential schools came in and native people weren’t recognized until around the 1960’s. That’s why my grandfather denied being an indigenous person because he was a half breed. He couldn’t sell fish at that time if he said he was native, so he didn’t say he was. There were signs all around the town saying “No Indians allowed”. It’s still really bad and Kenora is probably one of the most racist towns in all of Canada.

All the young kids are half-breeds like me and are either on methamphetamines or huffing gas. They’ll take a chemical called Napceline which is similar to kerosene but lasts longer. They’ll take an empty can and huff this gas. Kids as young as 5 years old now have burns all around their mouths from this gas. This is the kind of stuff I’m seeing and trying to battle. Nobody sees the underground.

I suffered like many otherindigenous young girls who were molested and abused. To see that I came out of it and to watch these other kids that didn’t is heart-wrenching.

The rock here in Kenora has a very powerful healing energy. If you don’t understand how to use the rock in the ceremonial context or in a healing way, the rock can pull you down and you can get hurt and it’s impossible to get back out. There are many kids here that are very sick and many of their parents went to residential schools that were poor in my region. There’s a lot of bad memories and bad mojo. We still go put our tobacco and put our prayer flags out for many of the kids that never went home.

God has called me here to do the work that I’m doing and employ these psychedelics because of this dirty history. We need a quick switch or else it's going to be many more generations of pain.

WOOP: What kind of work do you do to help heal illnesses?

Jazmin: We work with something called land-based healing. It’s essentially doing practices that are on the land, like sweat lodges. We use the land to help us recover. The rock of the Canadian shield, the trees, and the ground have this power and we use these energies to help people recover.

If somebody’s trying to get off drugs, they’ll do a four-day fast to cleanse their body and there will be someone watching them. I also employ some methods from Maestro Juan Flores, for example the one where a person goes into the jungle or into the bush for 10-15 days depending on how long they want to do it. Someone brings this person food two times a day and the person drinks plants from the land. This is how we integrand the land into the body.

We have become so separated from the Earth, especially with technology. I hope to teach others how to integrate with the land more so we’re not so cut off. We are from the land, not from a hospital. We are made of stardust, what’s out there. We’re not inorganic. I’m trying to help people get back to their organic nature and that’s what land healing is about.

photo of Jazmin in nature

WOOP: What type of work are you doing now?

Jazmin: Right now I work with a Chibougamau First Nations council and they implement this idea of nishnawbe aski nations health transformations. Health transformation for the indigenous people in Northern Ontario is to integrate plant medicine or traditional practices with western medicine. We make use of both of these things.

There are not many of us that know how to use all the plants safely and that’s why I get often called. Because I teach that and have a Masters of Science in Biology, people have a little more confidence in me. We are so westernized now that it’s really important for people to have someone who understands the science and can reassure them they will not hurt themselves by ingesting their traditional medicine. And they won’t, there are very few plants in my area that can harm someone.

So now I’m integrating traditional medicine into the current healthcare system in those northern communities. People have been doing this for the last 15-20 years and this health transformation has been a tough uphill battle for us to regain our traditions and for people to accept them. Until people actually take the medicine and see how much it can help them, they don’t understand it.

WOOP: For those seeking to learn more about plant medicine in indigenous wisdom what is the best way to work with and support these communities?

Jazmin: The simplest answer is to drink the tea from the land. Many people that are indigenous here wouldn’t even teach anyone that wasn’t the same color as them. They would shut you out because of colonization and the terrible things that have happened. Integrate yourself in the land, spend time with the land, let the land communicate with you. It could be anywhere, even in a city. Just be with a tree, or plant and learn about it and spend time with it.

One example of it could be our strawberries. We call it Odamon which means heart berry. If you think of them, they’re like tiny little hearts and they have these roots that snake along the ground that looks a lot like the circulatory system. We call them “heart medicine” because you can use them as heart medicine to advance the fresh flow in the body. Everyone can learn about these plants and do this.

We are all people of Gaia, people of the Earth and I want to stop with the separation. We’re all part of this one thing. We need to remember that we’re all human and we have this wonderful gift that is to be able to communicate with the rest of life because the rest of life is all our relations. We all come from the same place like plants, animals, fungi and we all come from the sacred one. We know that scientifically and science is finally catching up to us.

Jazmin assisted in writing Science North’s Planetarium film “Under the Same Stars: Minwaadiziwin” including narration and singing for the piece. Jazmin shares her knowledge of Boreal forest medicines, continually working with the Indigenous people of Northern Ontario. Currently, Jazmin works as a consultant with a Tribal council and a Community Organization teaching knowledge that promotes well-being, healing and self-knowing.

To learn more about her work check the Facebook page Boom Bay Integrative Healing.


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