By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY — Wiikwemkoong’s Joseph Pitawanakwat is looking forward to presenting a virtual Healthy Harvest presentation from the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Center on January 16 on metabolism, obesity, weight loss and diabetes, as well as the world of herbal medicines.
“This program is advertised as a session specifically focused on metabolism and throughout it we will learn what weight loss means and how to achieve it properly,” says Pitawanakwat, owner of Creators Garden. “By understanding metabolism, we will understand diabetes.”
Pitawanakwat says he has worked with participants ranging in age from kindergarten students to elderly men and women in previous workshops.
“I do it in a way that we can all understand, I don’t do it in a complex, hard-to-grasp way,” says Pitawanakwat. “I want to make sure and I make sure everyone understands at the end of the day what we need to do and how our bodies work and why the disease is there so that we really understand what the steps do to heal of this disease.”
Pitawanakwat says his presentation includes information about diabetes and the value of cultural components such as nutrition, medicine, exercise, fasting and the sweat lodge, as well as a question-and-answer session.
“In this program, we identify that nutrition is by far the most powerful tool,” says Pitawanakwat. “While medicine is important, what we do with our food is most valuable. If there are any takeaways from this presentation, it will change what we eat and how we eat.
Pitawanakwat adds that each of the session attendees will receive a packet of medicine to make about four liters of tea.
“It’s just to bring people as close as possible to the experience of using medicine as a tool,” says Pitawanakwat.
Pitawanakwat says he has made this presentation about 50 times via a virtual format since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The comments we get are always like, ‘I never thought I’d be able to learn so much physiology, so much science, I feel like a scientist now’, when we get this really comprehensive understanding of what exactly happens from a molecular level to some of these bigger pictures,” says Pitawanakwat “So it’s going to be super fun.”
Pitawanakwat says he first developed an interest in traditional medicines by visiting his grandmother, Thecla Pheasant, whose mother was a midwife and healer, and hearing her stories of using plants as medicine.
He started Creators Garden to share his knowledge about eight years ago and he and his wife moved to Peterborough about seven years ago to be closer to urban Aboriginal communities who sought his services.
“Since we moved here about seven years ago, we’ve been able to take on the challenge of all these different urban Indigenous communities,” says Pitawanakwat.
Pitawanakwat says he and his partner used to travel to deliver workshops in a wide range of communities across Ontario as well as the United States, Mexico and Costa Rico before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In pre-pandemic work, I would go to a health center and be with the community there for a week,” says Pitawanakwat. “We do it in a clinical setting with the doctors, with the nurses, so there’s ongoing support when we go.”