by Susan Leopold, Executive Director
It's hard to untangle the work that UpS carries out on a day-to-day basis because it is an interconnected Web in which one program feeds another, and the strength of the silk is based on you, the membership. At the Economic Botany's annual meeting Michelle Baumflek from Cornell University brought the concept of health sovereignty to my attention. She presented the case study of the Mi'kamaq and Maliseet communities of northern Maine and the use of Acorus americanus (sweet flag/muskrat root). As I sat listening to this presentation, I started to think how critical UpS is to health sovereignty here in the U.S. and Canada. It is easy for many in nations with some degree of primary health care unassociated with medicinal plants to overlook this link between traditional knowledge and community health sovereignty. This concept was first presented in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Sadly indigenous people are often stuck between two worlds—one in which they are losing land critical to sourcing medicinal plants, along with the knowledge of how to use those plants; and secondly, they also lack adequate access to primary healthcare. But this is not just an issue of indigenous people or those who call developing nations home—it is an issue for all of us living on this planet.
UpS’s mission to protect medicinal plants and their habitats is also deeply interwoven into the knowledge of how to use these medicines and how to be caretakers of the forests, meadows, and wetlands where we source these herbs that heal us. In essence the idea of health sovereignty includes the ability to choose medicines that are socio-culturally and ecologically appropriate, thereby providing practical, reliable, and contextually-relevant health care options. (Kickbush 2000; Smith 2006, Mousseau 2005; Kassam 2010; Nabhan 2009; Windfuhr and Jonsén 2005).
This summer alone United Plant Savers has put on three wonderful events. At each event those with knowledge in regards to conservation and how to use these plants in the socio-cultural and ecological systems they inhabit gathered to share critical knowledge. In essence we are co-creating the infrastructure to secure heath sovereignty for the future. Our “Planting the Future” events, our grants program that seeds community gardens, our outreach to herb schools, and our growth and constant nourishment of the UpS membership feed the mission as we move diligently towards ensuring abundant supply of locally sourced medicine that is an essential human right. But if we do not actively engage in the passing along of knowledge that teaches others and the younger generation how to use and steward healing herbs, then we risk losing them and the health sovereignty they so generously gift us.
My hope is that you read this summer bulletin and are deeply inspired by all the good news of what UpS is co–creating with you, our membership, and the plants we all love.
Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services. (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2008, Article 24, Section 1).