Ethnobotany? What is it?

Award-winning black ash basket maker Kelly Church.

This Great Lakes Anishinaabe Ethnobotany site features the personal stories of elders, culture bearers and traditional knowledge holders of many Anishinaabe tribes. What is ethnobotany? How does this site connect the Anishinaabe and ethnobotany?

If you look up the definition for ethnobotany, you will find several examples. Some of these definitions are outdated and others are very broad. In the context of this site, ethnobotany may be best suited with the term traditional ecological knowledge or TEK.

“There is consensus among scientists about the fact that such knowledge (TEK) is linked to a specific place, culture or society; it is dynamic in nature; it belongs to groups of people who live in close contact with natural systems and it contrasts with “modern” or “Western formal scientific” knowledge.”  

– G. J. Martin, author of “People and Plants” Conservation Manual © 1995

Anishinaabe peoples live and are active within the modern society context (albeit in the margins). Many Anishinaabe have moved away from their ancestral homelands. Even still there are those within the Anishinaabe community who continue to carry knowledge about the seasons, the trees, the plants and the roots. They will tell you they are still learning. Some of this knowledge that they carry is medicinal and some is ceremonial.

This site does not attempt to address those two specific areas of traditional ecological knowledge. This purposeful decision is out of respect for minobimaadzwin (the good way of life) of the Anishinaabe and those individuals who agreed to share their stories. This decision is also cautionary. It would not be our intention to give out bits and pieces of medicinal knowledge. One would need to have a complete understanding of Anishinaabe ceremonies and medicine from Anishinaabe elders before attempting to cure or heal oneself.

Instead this site is a collection of personal stories and cultural teachings related to various plants and trees of the upper Great Lakes region including; black ash, blueberry, cedar, cranberries, sugar maple, white paper birch, and wild rice.