27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

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The Return of History

I recently had the privilege of attending one of this year’s Massey Lectures in Vancouver, all being presented by this year’s powerhouse lecturer Jennifer Welsh.

The Massey Lectures have taken place annually since 1961 in honour of Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada. Each year since, CBC has invited a noted scholar to present a five-part series of lectures that focus on a political, cultural or historical topic that focus on original research in their field. These are the biggest thinkers and most important intellectuals of our times. Previous lecturers have been Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Hill and in 2003 the first Indigenous lecturer: Novelist Thomas King.

By being invited to be the 2016 lecturer, Jennifer Welsh is validated as being one of these types of big thinkers. One that shapes the landscape of what follows.

Jennifer has an internationally impressive reputation. Regina born, she recently completed her role as Special Advisor to the UN secretary-general on the Responsibility to Protect. She co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and currently she is a professor of international relations at the European Union University Institute in Florence and is a fellow of Sommerville College at Oxford.

The theme of her CBC Broadcast 2016 Massey Lectures is what Brian Bethune of MacLean’s magazine called “her sober state-of-the-world assessment” that is accompanied by the release of her new book The Return of History: Conflict, Migration and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century.”

Jennifer is also Métis.

Take that in for a minute.

It’s time we start paying attention to Jennifer Welsh and what she has to say as an internationally renowned expert in global politics, post-conflict reconstruction and the notion of sovereignty.

As Indigenous people we are slowly increasing our numbers in municipal, provincial and Federal government in the hopes of reaching a place where our people can be considered as part of a global landscape. Meanwhile Jennifer Welsh has been studying and helping shape the understanding of the world at a global level.

I attended her sold out lecture at the York Theatre entitled “The Return of Barbarism”. I appreciated her lecture so much. She connected the role of Western Liberal Democracy to the current state of affairs in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and explained to us “Why the West Hasn’t Won”.

Her lecture left me with so many questions and ready to devour the rest of her talks on CBC when they are available in October. But I was also left with some other questions. Why isn’t this making bigger headlines? Why isn’t she being profiled across the country with Métis and Indigenous leaders filling up all the seats? The lateral absence of commentary and support is stunning to me.

The very idea of reconciliation is rooted in the western ideal of liberal democracy. Liberal Democracy as a form of government that focuses on the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals. It places constraints on what can be done in which the will of the majority cannot overrule the rights of minorities. However the practice of liberal democracy is not cut and dry. How are those rights determined and who gets to assert them? The idea of reconciliation is that this part of our history is done now. We’ve moved on and reparations can be made. But it is Jennifer Welsh position that history is not done, it’s returning.

We need to increase our understanding of how liberal democracy has not worked to end extreme cruelty and brutality but has, in many cases, worked to entrench them is essential if we are to change the nature of our relationship to the nation state as First Nations people and governments.

Jennifer Welsh is setting the stage on an international level and we as a community are missing it. We are missing our opportunity to understand our own circumstances as they relate to the world as a whole.

You can attend  Jennifer Welsh’s Massey Lectures at the following dates, or
here or  the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures will be broadcast on CBC Radio One IDEAS October 31 – November 4.

Halifax, NS – October 5, 7 p.m.
Lecture 4: The Return of the Cold War
Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library
Presale: $27 regular
Regular price: $32 regular, students/seniors $20
Box Office: 902-422-6278 x500
Purchase tickets 
In person: at the Ticket Halifax Box Office/The Coast, 2309 Maynard Street

Toronto, ON – October 7, 7 p.m.
Lecture 5: The Return of Inequality
Koerner Hall
Presale: $45/$35 regular
Regular price: $50/$40 regular, students, $20, seniors $28
Box Office: 416-408-0208
Purchase tickets 

You can also purchase her new book that accompanies the lecture: The Return of History.

~Jessica Wood.

Storm Chasing

Highway 16, northern BCStorm chasing on Highway 16:
It’s like dancing, hide and seek, and flirting all at once.

First you chase the storm…

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…and then the storm chases you.
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I would have reached out and touched her, she was so beautiful…

This storm of ours, of mine.

She must have heard me… this spirit of creation,

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as suddenly there she was, reaching back.

Was that hello, or goodbye?

Before I could ask, she was gone.

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#BlackLivesMatter

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This is an open letter to my Indigenous Community,

I’m asking for solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter. To stop appropriating this hashtag to announce that Indigenous lives are just as important, because we feel the parallel systemic violence on top of colonial land violence.

This is not a time to try and prove who has been hurt worse or more often or for how long. This will not stop the pain and will not bring you comfort. This is a time for #IndigenousSolidarity.

I work on issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and have for over a decade. At a time when NOONE was taking us seriously, when our numbers were denied as not “real” statistics. When we called for allyship and solidarity…. We heard many of the same derailment tactics: That white women face domestic violence too, that if we handled ourselves differently, dressed differently, did not struggle with addiction, moved from the res, moved from the city, moved from the neighbourhood, didn’t antagonize the police, the social worker, the border guard, the transit police, the RCMP, then we would be ok. This is a falsehood intended to implicate us in our own oppression.

These are tactics used to take us away from the truth that violence is being done to us in genocidal numbers and we must not use these tactics now to contribute to the derailment of #BlackLivesMatter.

Because #BlackLivesMatter. Period.

We are not just an Indigenous community, but a community that is mixed blood…. Our history, oppression and future and that of the black community are not isolated from one another, nor is our potential for emancipation.

Our communities share ancestors and babies…. We are family. Think of your mixed race brothers and sisters, nieces and nephew, aunties and uncles, our parents and partners. We are community. How many of our youth and artists have found meaning and empowerment through black culture? Through black leaders, through black music?

It’s time we as Indigenous communities support black lives, and not simply take meaning from black culture. We know what it feels like to have our culture appropriated, while the oppression and injustice is omitted. We know what it is to constantly demand to have our lives recognized as human and our deaths to be taken seriously and treated with the gravity they deserve. We need to acknowledge that we know what this is, and to consciously choose to stand in solidarity against this kind of oppression.

Take this moment to examine racism within our own Indigenous communities. How are we complicit? It’s time to decide if we want to have more in common with those that share our oppression, or with our shared oppressors. Racism is not our tradition.

I understand that we are hurting, for so many same reasons: systemic violence resulting in injury, death, public execution, child apprehension and incarceration. But we did not see the hashtag #BlackIdleNoMore did we? No, that would not be ok. That would negate our struggle, that would silence our point, our position, our movement in a weird oppression competition.

So it’s time to stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

Right now, in North America, Black lives are being taken in public executions by police and this must stop. It’s insane. Why would we want to derail that?

Here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Hold space for #BlackLivesMatter: to mourn, hurt, be quiet, be angry for all the feelings, for all the words, for all the silences.
  2. Stop the appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This includes speaking up and against the hashtag alllivesmat@#… #NativeLivesMatt@#… Etc.
  3. Interrupt and engage those in your own circles/ workplaces/ social media who dismiss the real pain and resistance efforts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is not a time to be silent.
  1. Understand that the violence you may be aware of now, is not new and is symptomatic of colonialism, racism and white privilege and what is new is the collective international resistance to the violence against and public execution of people of color by police.
  2. #SayTheirNames
  3. Say #BlackLivesMatter

Believe it.

~Jessica Wood.

Kitchen Table Talks

All of us at Tea & Bannock have agreed to prioritize mentorship as part of our collective work. In considering this, I sat down with my mentor, Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh. She has made several documentary films including: Women in the Shadows, Keepers of the Fire, Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle, The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters and Finding Dawn.

I met Christine at the University of Victoria. Her class was the place I felt most challenged, seen, and heard. She hired me as her to intern on the documentary Finding Dawn. Over the past dozen years, she’s been my professor, my boss, my mentor, my friend, and I’m proud to say she is now my Mother-in-law, and the best Kookum in the world.

Who better to ask about my new role, than from my own mentor?

Christine Welsh Metis Filmmaker

Christine at her Kitchen Table

[JW] You’re been an active mentor, I can attest to that. You’ve spoken to me before about the importance of mentorship, and how it’s not common. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about why you think that is.

[CW] I don’t know why it isn’t more common than it is.

I had some really important mentors in my life. When I think back on the directions that my life has gone in. Those people stand at the head of those forks in the road, they really do.

Jean Oser

Jean Oser

The first one was John Oser who was my film teacher. A very unconventional film teacher, but that was his role. He was the person that made me want to be a filmmaker. He was this completely unconventional teacher. You showed films, and then you stood at the front, and then you just talked passionately about them.

On campus at the time, there was this buzz that went around, about this old man (OLD MAN! He was as old as I am now!) in the Fine Arts department that was teaching these film courses on Wednesday mornings. and anybody could go, because it was in ‘Dark Hall’, and it was dark, and nobody knew who was there. So you would just go, and find a dark seat in this auditorium, and watch movies, and listen to this guy talk. And I just was in love and I never went back to English class. I mean that was IT.

[JW] Is that what you were doing, an English degree?

[CW] Yes, I was in school to do an English degree and I just never went back. I just sat there and listened to him.

[JW] What was he like?

[CW] He was an amazing man. He was one of these people who saw good things everywhere. He would look at a students’ really clichéd, deeply flawed little film effort and always find something wonderful in it. Of course they are going to have things wrong with them, but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on the wonderful, and you make them think they are capable of wonderful. He taught me that.

He had worked on the first sound films in Germany in the early 1930s. He had been prescient enough to leave Germany when he saw what Nazism was bringing. He and his wife were both Jewish, and had moved to the safety of New York.

There he worked on a lot of war propaganda films for the Office of War Information in the United States. He was a film editor. He brought this bigger world to me. He wasn’t an academic. He came to the University of Regina because one of his radical students in New York, also Jewish, also a Marxist, had come to the University of Regina as a radical sociology professor. They all ended up in this little prairie city that didn’t know what hit it! Even though Saskatchewan had this pretty radical history of it’s own.

He encouraged me to come just spend time with him and learn from him. He had this ratty little office in the basement of Dark hall. We all just hung out down there, a group of us, 5 or 6 young men, and me. I was the only woman. There was film making equipment and we could just do anything we wanted with it.

John Oser Editing

John Oser editing

He taught me editing on an old Moviola. [laughs] That was one of those stand up double system things that you see in the movies that has been around since the thirties. He taught me how to edit on this thing just because he wanted to. Because he thought I had a talent for editing, which I ended up doing, once I left there.

[JW] Was there anyone else?

[CW] I also had a dance teacher – in my late teens and early twenties. Her name was Marianne Livant and she has since passed. She was a really important mentor in my life. She was this really smart aleck, loud mouthed, super intense, super creative, Jewish woman from New York.

She was a modern dancer and she set up this modern dance workshop studio in Regina, of a sort Regina had never seen . I had been taking ballet lessons and started going to her workshop. It wasn’t so much the dance that changed my life. It was her and hanging around with her family. I mean they just like swore up and down! I can remember her two kids getting kicked out the swimming pool, the public swimming pool in the Wascana Park in Regina because they were so fowl mouthed! Up until then, I didn’t swear all that much, but I learned!

[JW] I can attest to that!

 

[CW] I learned! I had had this very sort of conservative catholic upbringing, going to a high school run by nuns, all girls, wearing the uniforms – the whole business. And here was this woman who just showed me this other way to be in the world and I wanted that.

We became very close. We would travel and do these little dance performances in small towns in Saskatchewan. Both her and her late husband Bill, were very important people in my life because they kind of busted open my very conservative upbringing and showed me a different way.

Marianne Livant's Dance Troupe 1973/74

It was a tremendously exciting time to be in Regina, at the University. These people just blew open my world! I saw that not only were there other ways to be in the world. But I learned a lot about European history, about American history, about radical politics. That was my radical politics initiation because at that point I was still not “out” as a native person. I was not part of this world as a native person. I was just part of this world as one of Marianne’s dancers and as a student. They were tremendously important people in my life.

So, I had some really wonderful mentors in my life, I really did. And I consider myself so fortunate that they were there. And of course there were people on the films. On every film there was somebody who was a mentor. On Women in the Shadows it was Emma LaRocque. On Keepers of the Fire it was Shirley Bear. On the Kuper Island film it was Delmar Johnnie Seletze. And of course on Finding Dawn there was Janice Acoose and Fay Blaney and everyone on Finding Dawn – you! You were my teacher. There were so many teachers on Finding Dawn. Each film there were just so many people who taught me so much.

[JW] So you came to teaching through a non-traditional route?

[CW] And I had seen many non-traditional teachers! Non-traditional teachers had been my mentors.

[JW] So what made you decide to teach?

[CW] I didn’t go seeking it out. It’s not something I saw myself doing. I was a single mom, in filmmaking. I was living in Toronto and I was editing. I knew that once my son was born, that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to do that because it was a 24/7 job. It wasn’t going to work.So, I went back and finished that degree, fifteen years later. And that was where I met my next mentor. I took a class that was taught by Sylvia Van Kirk and that’s how I met her. That’s how I learned how that little piece of history clicked together that became Women in the Shadows. It was through her, again, mentors!

Students often ask you for career advice, and my career advice is really simple; Pay attention to the things that get put in your path, especially the people that are put in your path. You might think you’re getting this degree that’s going to put you on this path to be XY or Z but other things are always put in your path and it’s up to you do something with that. Those are going to be the things that are ultimately most important in your life. They were in my life.

So mentoring is a really interesting topic, because I think about the people who were put on my journey and I think it’s our responsibility to the future. I actually take it really seriously and I always have. We’re responsible for handing over whatever this piece is that we’ve learned. You know? From our mistakes, from our efforts, we are responsible to pass that on, and then eventually step aside.

Christine Welsh being honoured at UVic.

Honouring Ceremony and retirement party for Christine Welsh at UVic.

I feel that really intensely now. It’s time for me to be leaving my job at UVic, it’s been really good. Even though it’s not anything I ever would have imagined for myself – to be a university teacher. It taught me a huge amount. I met amazing students who are still part of my life. It’s all been about the relationships that I formed there. But I don’t need to keep doing it indefinitely.

I’m really delighted that another young Indigenous woman scholar is now going to take that place. It’s her time to do that. I had my time there. Just like you’re supposed to lead now. I can provide whatever wisdom I’ve managed to accumulate and opinions (of which you know I will be only too happy to share.) But it is for you to decide where that goes now, because that’s your future. It’s your turn and I’ll be there with you, but you decide where we go next.

[JW] So these careers, these positions in the world don’t need to go on forever… you’re wrapping this one up, you’ve decided to let it go and put down teaching.

[CW] “Put down teaching” I really like that expression!

[JW] What other things are you working on now that aren’t teaching?

[CW] I’m finishing a short documentary called The Thinking Garden about a group of elderly women who have been operating a community garden in Jopi village in Limpopo Province, South Africa since Apartheid. It’s an amazing story of women’s resilience, which is one of the reasons I became involved with it.

It was proposed to me by a colleague at UVic, Elizabeth Vibert. She has been working with these women recording their life stories. You can find more information at Womensfarm.org.

[JW] You’re definitely not retired, just moving onto other things.  Now, let me catch up long enough to take your picture! Thank you!

Portrait of Christine Welsh

Christine

 

* Disclaimer: Some of the statements have been edited for clarity and continuity.

Smudge.

Smudge-Eats-Salal-by-Jessica-Wood

Gathering Medicine.

Sometimes we all need some good medicine.
It’s up to you where you find it.

Some of my favourites are:

  • loving scolding from all the of aunties… all at once.
  • teasing from cousins about that one you used to date, way back, remember? Couldn’t bait a hook with marshmallows.
  • those hugs from Ye’eh that smelled like tobacco and good advice.
  • that time your Bestie stayed up all night plotting how you would take the world by storm, while canning blackberry jam.
  • double batches of Aunti Lovi’s fry-bread so no one has to be polite.

These days, our good medicine can be found in the company of our new puppy, Smudge.

We named her Smudge because she’s good medicine.

She’s not our “spirit animal”, she’s just our spirited pup.

She’s a lie in the sun,
too big for your lap & don’t care,
Salal eating,
carrot digging,
bundle of good heart.


How often do animals get treated like a nuisance or a novelty? We are a part of the animal world, we aren’t separate, and yet so often we’re conditioned to behave like we are.

Yes, she’s just a dog. But dogs work in tandem with us. They literally walk with us.

We feed her and care for her and in return she helps keep us safe, alerts us to predators, protect us. She keeps us active and very good company. I believe animals around us help keep us grounded to the basics; how we carry ourselves, eating, drinking water, resting, being present.They bring out our better character.  That’s good medicine isn’t it?

Our home is full of #Smudge puns these days, and she’s so cute, and we are threatening to start her own instagram account.  What do you think?

#RezDogsOfInstagram

~Jessica Wood

Weeds are my medicine

It’s Gooym (spring) and everything around is waking from their winter nap. This is the time of year the tree frogs start singing, the days start to get longer and the nettle is one of the first plants that stretches up.

Everything has been early this year because of global warming. I don’t know if we have a word in our language for global warming? If we don’t, I’m sure we will need one very soon.

Spring in these parts usually has people talking about cherry and plum blossoms. There’s even a cherry blossom festival.

Yellow Plum Blossom by Jessica Wood

Yellow Plum Blossoms

In the coastal rainforest it is definetly Gooym and this is my favorite time to harvest. Suunt (summer) often gets the glory, with is luscious fruit and the abundant vegetables and while important to me – it’s spring when the sdeti (stinging nettles) start to pop up and tempt me, even when I’m not wearing gloves, that I enjoy harvesting the most.

Sdeti is one of my first plant allies. I didn’t always believe in such things as plant allies, but I’ve come to agree that a plant is a living being and can be your ally, or on occasion, your opponent. Symbiotic relationships exist with plants, there is communication and interdependence. Sdeti once gave me such painful hives the plant actually scared me for many years. Now that I know how to use Sdeti, how to tend it, my reactions to stings are minimal and it’s effectiveness as medicine increased. If that’s not an ally, I don’t know what is.

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle

Sma’lgyax: Sdeti or steti
Gitxsan name: sdatxs or sdetxs
Nisga’a name: Sdatx
Latin name: Urtica dioica
Common Name: Stinging Nettle

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle Top

Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle Top

Poorly harvested Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle

Poorly harvested Sdeti/ Stinging Nettle – notice the tiny prickles

I believe working with our territory is one of the most powerful acts of self love and self respect we as Indigenous people can do. To learn the landscape, the language, the cycles, and be a part of them is an act of both resistance and love. Whether it be harvesting herring, tending nettle, tapping trees or using our medicines instead of commercial ones.

This is our greatest inheritance, this is what define us more than blood quantum or band membership – eating our foods, using our medicines, being part of our territory – land, sea and river. Without using this knowledge, we are three generations away at any time from loosing this ability altogether.

I’m currently working on an Indigenous Materia Medica.

Materia Medica is a Latin medical term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing (i.e., medicines). I’ve been resistant to this part of plant work and herbal medicine because it has felt like it relied on using the wrong words. It relied on a body of knowledge that has often been stolen from our people and then used against us.

iimg̱a̱n/ Usnea

iimg̱a̱n/ Usnea – never harvest from a tree, only from windfall.

Recently I started trying to learn the right words for these plants and will base my Materia Medica on my own languages. I will record the Latin Names for the usefulness to distinguish the specific species of plants across a vaster geography, but I will call them by the names in my languages, their true names,  so that we may continue to ally ourselves together.

 

Cleaver

Cleaver – still trying to learn the word for it in our languages