On a Thursday in June, apprentices from Atabey Medicine gather in the backyard of a house in northeast Portland. Ridhi D’Cruz, member and teacher of the Atabey Board of Medicine, brought together Yarrow and St. John’s Must of the garden of Atabey and involves the apprentices in a vegetable meditation.
Decoctions of the two infused plants side by side in mason jars on a table amid mineral kingdom stones. In the tribal lands of the Cathlamet, Molalla, Willamette, Multnomah Clackamas, Tualatin, Kalapuya and Chinook is the Atabey Garden. Red Clover, Yarrow, St. John’s St. John’s wort and others live in tandem with bees, beetles and many other insects. After ingesting the tea and meditation, the apprentices shared reflections, images and sensations.
Atabey Medicine is a year-long apprenticeship from Seed and Thistle Apothecary. Atabey Medicine provides educational resources to queer, trans, gender non-conforming, black and indigenous communities who claim their ancestral traditions around plant medicine and healing.
In 2020, Atabey Medicine received a $20,000 award Grant for the creation of community places of Subway. These grants support community-based, equity-focused, arts and culture-based efforts that strengthen connections between people and the places they care about.
“Atabey Medicine Learning addresses the lack of access for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color to learn about herbal medicine and ancestral medicine, here in Portland and elsewhere.” – Lara Pacheco, Atabey Medicine Council
Atabey Medicine was born from the experiences of Taino Latinx herbalist Lara Pacheco. Atabey’s medical apprenticeship program was inspired by Pacheco’s own family traditions and their learning experiences in herbalism programs. Pacheco studied and completed a three-year program at the Traditional Western School of Herbalism, along with other apprenticeships.
Recalling their youth, Pacheco says: “The primary school I went to was in a historically rural area. I remember learning about and coming into contact with a wild onion in an open field—smelling it and thinking, “Could that be wild onion… it would be so cool if it could look like wild food! »
Pacheco grew up with her grandmother who applied traditional Puerto Rican herbal remedies to her as a child. Pacheco recalls the warmth and efficacy of the remedies that informed and connected them to an understanding of ancestral plant knowledge beyond their own lifetimes.
At the heart of Atabey Medicine is an ancestral awareness of plant knowledge that focuses on supporting and acknowledging queer, trans, gender non-conforming, black and indigenous communities. Atabey medicine is deliberately decolonial in its content and teaching methodology.
“Herbalism, like many institutions, is dominated by white supremacy, by whiteness in general,” Pacheco explains. “Atabey Medicine Learning addresses the lack of access for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color to learn about herbal medicine and ancestral medicine, here in Portland and elsewhere.”
“We need revolutionary acts of personal and community care.” – Ridhi D’Cruz, Atabey Medicine Council
The Atabey Board of Medicine formed in 2020 and is made up of former apprentices from diverse cultural traditions who form the Atabey Board of Medicine and collectively teach and lead learning. Ridhi D’Cruz has completed the 2019 apprenticeship program and is on the Board. “As things got tougher with the pandemic, with the uprisings and with just a lot of energy in these times, we were a few of the 2019 cohort who leaned down and asked Lara, ‘Do you need help and how can we support you?’ It has evolved into a collective leadership model.
Cruz, originally from South India and moved to Wapato Valley (Portland) in 2010 said, “As Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and Queer and Trans (QTBIPOC) folx, we endure, survive and transform the ongoing trauma of white supremacist culture, colonization and capitalism. We need revolutionary acts of personal and community care.
Growing up in Bangalore, D’Cruz always believed that plants were part of their sense of comfort and well-being. A 2011 Portland State University class with herbalist and educator Judy Bluehorse furthered D’Cruz’s connection to plants. During this process, it has sparked a deep reflection on what it means for BIPOC communities to be colonized, displaced and uprooted from their lands. This numbness of the living world Ridhi D’Cruz described as a “forgot sorrow outfit” that people who have been torn from the earth carry with them.
Meredyth is also a board member. “For people of color, many of us are not on our traditional lands and don’t always have access to our traditional ways of healing. Our ancestral connection to the land is a truly tender place for many of us, given the histories of colonialism and slavery. This program encourages us to sit with this tender place and begin to holistically access and integrate this ancestral connection, both in our daily lives and in the way we present ourselves in the community and with each other. .
As the discussion around ecology takes center stage in sustaining life on this planet, the voices of Queer, Trans BIPOC, along with their ancestral wisdom offer multi-dimensional voices to the one voice drone. Atabey’s educational mission is to awaken communities to their individual and collective place on the planet.
Sasha Gilbert, one of Atabey’s board members writes, “Decolonize herbalism and prioritize environmental justice! What a process of liberation it is to decolonize as people of the diaspora.” Meredyth considers plants to be the most ancient ancestor. She writes, “Since plants are not only members of our communities, but also our oldest ancestors, the ways we can grow and learn alongside them are endless.
For the communities served by Atabey, the route is that of the car–love affirmed by plants. In the sumptuousness of the garden there is no martyrdom or continual regurgitation of worn-out concepts or the constant pain of oppression as a continuous thread of reality. Atabey reﬂects the different rays of the sun in each community and reserves space for their release.
Looking to the future of this work, Pacheco hopes to see more programs similar to Atabey Medicine develop. “What I’m looking for are just ways to mentor and help people teach. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing Black and Indigenous people teaching and talking about plant medicine here in this country. I think it’s huge and absolutely necessary. As plant medicine has become more of an industry, it’s just about keeping things accessible and remembering that the foundation of this medicine has always been accessible because it comes from the earth.