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When patients experience the foods and medicines that sustained their ancestors, they remember who they are as Indian People.
They recover their own wealth. ?This is a vital part of the healing process.


The Northwest Indian Treatment Center(NWITC) is a 45-day drug and alcohol residential treatment program in Elma, Washington.? It was created by the Squaxin Island Tribe to address an unmet need for culturally-based treatment centers for Indian People who grew up on reservations.? The program specializes in treating people with chronic relapse patterns related to unresolved grief and generational trauma.? Cultural traditions, including storytelling, singing, drumming, using native foods and medicines, creating native arts, and support from local spiritual communities are a part of the program.

The Traditional Foods and Medicines Program?is an integral part of the NWITC program.? Over the course of patients’ residential stay, they receive 27 hours of class time on how to plant, maintain, harvest, and prepare healthy foods and medicines.? The program includes:

Weekly hands-on classes with cooking and medicine making demonstrations.
Bi-monthly presentations by tribal leaders including elders, storytellers, and cultural specialists.
A monthly plants class for families, which allows patients to share what they are learning with loved ones.
Three on-site teaching gardens where patients can gain hands-on experience.
An herbal tea dispensary.? Patients grow, harvest, process, and blend most of the teas.
An herbal pharmacy with remedies that address common complaints.
Native foods and garden grown vegetables are integrated into meals throughout patients’ stay at the treatment center.

Program History

The Traditional Foods and Medicines Program was started in 2004 and has been delivered in partnership with the Northwest Indian College (NWIC) since 2009.? The Treatment Center and the NWIC have a long history of working together to serve tribal communities.? In addition to jointly delivering the?Traditional Foods and Medicines Programand teaching others about this program model, they also offer train-the-trainer workshops that increase the number of community educators capable of teaching on native foods, diabetes prevention, traditional medicines and tribal community gardens.? In the past year, over 40 educators from 15 tribes have completed the trainings and have started teaching in their communities.

The partnership also benefits patients who want to enter college or get jobs related to working with traditional foods and medicines.? Upon graduation from the Treatment Center, patients receive a Traditional Foods and Medicines Certificate with 2.7 continuing education units (CEU’s).? Since fall 2011, 135 patients have graduated from the Treatment Center program.? Of those, about 10 have enrolled at NWIC.? Several have also secured jobs in related areas, including plant restoration, community gardening, and health care.

Teaching Gardens

Patients gain experiential learning in three on-site teaching gardens. ?TheTraditional Foods Garden?includes native and non-native vegetables that are used in cooking classes and to amend regular meals.? Patients prepare the soil, plant seeds, tend, harvest and enjoy foods that are grown in this garden.??The Medicine Wheel Garden?was designed and built by patients as a way to integrate plant medicine into the treatment program. ?The Native Berry Garden?teaches patients to identify, harvest, and prepare huckleberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, juneberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and others.

Many of the foods and herbs are preserved for later use.? In spring and summer, patients harvest plants that are dried, processed, and made into nutritious teas.? Patients also harvest herbs to make oils and salves for healing the skin and easing muscle pain and arthritis.? Roots are infused in honey to make cough and cold medicines.? Program staff and the Treatment Center nurse reserve and dispense these medicines to patients from a traditional plants pharmacy.

Perhaps the project’s greatest strength is that it helps patients remember what they already know.? Many patients were raised culturally.? Their faces light up when they recognize a plant that is important to their family or community.? Something floods back into them as they recall harvesting medicine in the mountains with their aunties or fishing for smelt on the river.? Stories emerge from forgotten places. ?A sense of pride and enthusiasm comes over many as their culture is validated and affirmed.? They can see the knowledge that they carry and they recognize their own wealth. ?Many voice their intention to return home and teach what they have learned while seeking even more knowledge about traditional plants and foods.? They are infused with a renewed sense of purpose, place, and belonging.? This is vital to the healing process.

Future Initiatives:

The?Traditional Foods and Medicines Program?is building outpatient support. One of the most challenging periods in a treatment program occurs when the patient moves from the inpatient facility back to their home.? This may be the very place that enabled their addiction initially.? Through building relationships with mentors and positive role models who can help patients find cultural activities and support systems, the?Traditional Foods and Medicines Program?is increasing the likelihood that patients will maintain their sobriety.

Northwest Indian College educators are currently developing new culturally-based curricula on native foods nutrition, native culinary arts, traditional medicines, harvesting throughout the seasons, and tribal community gardens.? These curricula will be available to tribal educators over the course of the next two years and will be released through train-the-trainer workshops.

Our Vision: Embracing the Wealth of Where We Come From
Native foods and medicines have the power to heal our bodies and spirits.
We return to the full potential of who we are by getting our hands in the dirt,
living with the seasons, and using traditional knowledge to care for ourselves.
We carry the teachings of our Elders, give back the gifts that we receive,
and leave gifts for those to come.

We would like to thank our funders including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Potlatch Fund, the Washington Health Foundation, the Squaxin Island Tribe, the Nisqually Tribe, and many other tribes.


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