On a Thursday in June, Atabey Medicine apprentices gather in the backyard of a Northeast Portland home. Ridhi D’Cruz, Atabey Medicine Council member and teacher, has gathered Yarrow and St. John’s Wort from the Atabey garden and is leading the apprentices through a plant meditation.
Decoctions of the two plants steep side by side in mason jars on a table amidst stones from the mineral kingdom. In the tribal lands of the Cathlamet, Molalla, Willamette, Multnomah Clackamas, Tualatin, Kalapuya and Chinook lies the Atabey garden. Red clover, Yarrow, St. John's wort, and others live in tandem with bees, beetles and numerous other insects. After ingesting the tea and the meditation, the apprentices shared reﬂections, images and sensations.
Atabey Medicine is a yearlong apprenticeship that bloomed out of Seed and Thistle Apothecary. Atabey Medicine provides educational resources to Queer, Trans, Non Gender Conforming, Black and Indigenous communities reclaiming their ancestral traditions around plant medicine and healing.
In 2020, Atabey Medicine was awarded a $20,000 Community Placemaking grant from Metro. These grants support community-driven, equity-centered, arts and culture based efforts that strengthen people’s connections to each other and the places they care about.
“The Atabey Medicine Apprenticeship addresses a lack of access for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color to gain knowledge of herbal and ancestral medicine, here in Portland and elsewhere." - Lara Pacheco, Atabey Medicine Council
Atabey Medicine sprung out of the experiences of Taino Latinx herbalist Lara Pacheco. The Atabey Medicine Apprenticeship program was informed by Pacheco’s own family traditions and their learning experiences in herbalism programs. Pacheco studied and completed a three year program at the School of Traditional Western Herbalism, along with other apprenticeships.
Remembering their youth Pacheco says, “The elementary school I went to was in an area that was historically rural. I have a memory of learning and connecting with a wild onion in an open ﬁeld --- smelling it, and being like ‘Could this be wild onion...that would be so cool if this could be 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 which informed them and connected them to an understanding of ancestral plant knowledge beyond their own lifetime.
At the core of Atabey Medicine is ancestral awareness of plant knowledge which focuses on supporting and acknowledging Queer, Trans, Non Gender Conforming, Black and Indigenous communities. Atabey Medicine is purposefully decolonial in its content and teaching methodology.
“Herbalism, like many institutions, is dominated by white supremacy, by whiteness in general,” says Pacheco. “The Atabey Medicine Apprenticeship addresses a lack of access for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color to gain knowledge of herbal and ancestral medicine, here in Portland and elsewhere.”
"We need revolutionary acts of self and community care." - Ridhi D'Cruz, Atabey Medicine Council
The Atabey Medicine Council formed in 2020 and is composed of former apprentices from varying cultural traditions who form the Atabey Medicine Council and who collectively teach and lead the apprenticeship. Ridhi D'Cruz completed the 2019 apprenticeship program and is a part of the Council. “As things got harder with the pandemic, with uprisings and with just a lot of energy moving through these times, there were a few of us from the 2019 cohort who leaned in and asked Lara, ‘Do you need help and how can we support you?' It evolved to a collective leadership model.”
Cruz, originally from South India and moved to Wapato Valley (Portland) in 2010 says, “As Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and Queer and Trans (QTBIPOC) folx, we endure, survive and transform the ongoing trauma of white supremacy culture, colonization and capitalism. We need revolutionary acts of self and community care.”
Growing up in Bangalore, D’Cruz always felt plants were a part of how they felt comfort and wellbeing. A 2011 Portland State University class with herbalist and educator Judy Bluehorse deepened D’Cruz’s connection to plants. In the process it brought up deep reﬂection around what it means for BIPOC communities to be colonized, displaced and taken away from their lands. This numbness to the living world Ridhi D’Cruz describes as a “forgotten holding of grief” that people who have been torn from the land carry with them.
Meredyth is also a member of the council. “For people of color, a lot 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 really tender place for a lot of us, given histories of colonialism and enslavement. This program encourages us to sit with that tender place and begin to access and holistically integrate that ancestral connection, both into our daily lives and how we show up in community and with each other.”
As the discussion around ecology takes the forefront in maintaining life on this planet, the voice of Queer, Trans BIPOC, as well as their ancestral wisdom provides multi-dimensional voices to the drone of one single voice. Atabey’s educational mission is to reawaken communities to their individual and collective place on the planet.
Sasha Gilbert, one of the members of the Atabey council writes, “We must decolonize herbalism and prioritize environmental justice! What a freeing process it is to decolonize as people of the diaspora.” Meredyth, sees plants as the oldest ancestor. She writes, “Since plants are not only members of our communities, but are also our oldest ancestors, the ways we can grow and learn alongside them are inﬁnite.”
For the communities served by Atabey, the pathway is one of self-love affirmed through plants. In the lusciousness of the garden, there is no martyrdom or continual regurgitation of worn out concepts or the constant pain of oppression as a continual thread of reality. Atabey reﬂects the differing rays of the sunlight in each community and holds space for their liberation.
In reﬂecting on what the future of this work is, Pacheco hopes to see more programs similar to Atabey Medicine grow. “What I'm seeking is just ways to really mentor and support people to teach. There's nothing more rewarding than to see Black and Indigenous people teaching and talking about plant medicine here in this country. I think it's immense and absolutely necessary. As plant medicine has become more of an industry, it's just keeping things accessible and remembering that the foundation of that medicine has always been accessible because it's of the earth.”