Good day, saskatoonberry. áma sq̓it, stsáqwem!


Over at the instagram account, Amanda has, it seems, been spending a lot of time this week on her hands and knees, having lovely close-upencounters with all the creatures – from chocolate lily to calypso orchid to the slugs, who are making their spring appearances. She’s also spotted some early saskatoonberry blossoms. Which is a good opportunity for us to learn to greet the saskatoon by name.


Last year, I read a beautiful essay by Robin Wall Kimmerer, inspired by a mega saskatoonberry picking session.

Saskatoon, Juneberry, Shadbush, Shadblow, Sugarplum, Sarvis, Serviceberry—these are among the many names for Amelanchier. Ethnobotanists know that the more names a plant has, the greater its cultural importance. In Potawatomi, it is called Bozakmin, which is a superlative: the best of the berries.

What deep wisdom is stored in this word, stsáqwem, I wondered. So I googled it. And happily, discovered that Neawana Michell, a St̓át̓imc language and culture teacher has shared a video of harvesting stsáqwem, saskatoon berries.

In it, she shares that sTsáqwem is a very important berry to the St̓át̓imc. “It’s our king berry.”

I appreciate all she shares about sTsáqwem, seeing the harvesting, the baskets, and the processing, and hearing her share the word again and again until it feels more familiar in my mouth. I wanted to add one thing – coming from a settler, white-consumer, colonized mindset, I recognise in myself that my first instinct, when I encounter something new and lovely that I want to get to know better, is to buy/consume it. I don’t hate on myself for this. I’m a product of the culture I swim in. Kid of the 70s and 80s. I have absorbed a lot of messages that say, the way to interact with anything meaningfully, is to own it. I suspect, when some of us first go into wild places, or nature, or places that move us, we want to interact meaningfully, and we don’t have a big repertoire of moves beyond own/buy/consume. Learning to harvest something can feel giddily exciting. Oh, look at me, I’m in touch with nature, I’m harvesting things and getting in touch with my inner wild. When the consumer meets the forager inside us, things can be dangerous… we can bring our appetite for meaning/connection/relationship and our scarcity mindset and our over-achieving/gold-star-seeking ways (speaking for a friend. Haha, not really. Speaking totally for myself.), into that experience. I invite you to pause, before you decide to go foraging. I invite you to consider the needs of all the other beings that live with a plant you’re encountering. I invite you to maybe make friends first, lest foraging become the tinder of wild spaces. Wanna hook up? I’ve seen your photo online and you look good to me. What if we slow right down, and say, let’s just sit and visit. Let me learn how to say your name. Let me taste one berry, if I may. Let me offer you something in return – my attention sitting here, my praise and admiration, the water from my water bottle, some kind of offering… just something that tries to bring us into a different kind of balance. I have found that the very best guidance for this is the Honourable Harvest teachings that Robin Wall Kimmerer has shared.

In Ucwalmictws, the language of the St’atl’imc Nations, the word for harvest is k̓úl̓tsam̓, meaning not just to take food or get food, but also – “Take only what you need and use what you take.” It’s a word that means integrity, responsibility and living well.

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