Meet An HWB Chapter - South Okanagan/Similkameen HWB, serving the region of Southern British Columbia, Canada!
What is your chapter name and which region do you serve?
South Okanagan / Similkameen Herbalists Without Borders - SOSHWB. We are located in Keremeos BC and serve the South Okanagan and Similkameen regions of Southern BC, Canada
How many members do you have in your group?
Around 10 people who have stated they would like to be involved. We are relatively young and just getting warmed up so we are figuring that all out.
Who is/are your main coordinator(s)?
Laurel Irons. I am a Registered Acupuncturist and Clinical Herbalist with a clinic and apothecary in Keremeos that also acts as SOSHWB headquarters.
Do you have any past projects that you wish to share? What you did or made, who you worked with, and how it benefit community?
We started in 2015 as a group of about 8 people interested in plants and plant medicine, but
weren't very active yet. We organized one medicine making day, when a group of 4 of us made elderflower cordial together, and one gathering day, when another group of 3 of us harvested balsamroot (Balsamorhizza sagitatta) and made balsamroot honeys and tincture.
Due to some members moving away, and many time constraints (I moved and expanded my clinic in the summer of 2015, and many of our members are organic farmers and orchardists which is incredibly time consuming) we were inactive in 2016.
So far in 2017, we have just held our first public event – a People's Clinic Day – on April 22. It was a multidisciplinary event with 5 therapists (massage, reflexology and acupuncture) and 2 herbalists offering services. Everything was available free or by donation. Most of the attendees were people who were new to herbs and/or the other services provided and wanting to try them out. We gave out a total of 37 therapeutic services, a few custom herbal remedies (with consultations), and herbal tea was offered to everyone who came by. The tea was a blend of nettle, mint, alfalfa and red clover, added to fresh pressed organic apple juice, all grown on the property of one of our herbalists, and made fresh that morning. We had printing donated from our local graphic designer and printer, newspaper space donated by our local paper, and organic fruit, donated by our local grocery store, that we were able to offer to everyone who came by. We had volunteer drivers arranged – thanks to our local Community Services' volunteer driver program - for anyone who wanted to come but for whom transportation might be a barrier, but didn't have to call on them.
The idea of the event was to offer accessible services to the community, as well as let people know about HWB. We had some new people sign up as a result of the event. The next step will be to connect with our member list and see how people would like to be involved. So far this year we plan to host a medicine making day (probably a herbal healing salve) and a plant walk, open to the public, also by donation or free. The donations collected will pay for supplies and other costs for these upcoming events.
Does your region face any unique needs?
The South Okanagan (including the Similkameen Valley) is a region comprised of small towns and rural communities. The Okanagan is the hottest and driest climate in Canada, and home to Canada's only desert. We have a very unique and delicate ecosystem here, with several plant and animal species and habitats on the endangered list, especially due to climate change and development (mostly agricultural) in the area. We see four distinct and beautiful seasons here, with long hot summers and mild but cool, snowy winters. The area is prone to forest fires and droughts in summer, though we have had so much rain and snow this spring that there haven't been any major fires yet.
We are home to Canada's “Organic Capital” - growers here supply much of the organic produce, juice, etc to the rest of the country. It is also the country's premier wine producing area, home to several vineyards and wineries, and increasingly more micro breweries, distilleries and cideries.
The population is home to many walks of life: employed, unemployed and seasonal labourers. Of course there are many famers, orchardists and seasonal farm workers, and there is a copper mine that employs many locals. Many retirees move here from the rest of the country, seeking the hot dry weather and milder winters. There are several young families as well. Though when young people get old enough they tend to move away to the cities for education and employment opportunities. Because of the seasonal nature of the work here, many people call this home for half the year, especially from Quebec, Mexico and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, seasonal workers still work very long, hard hours for comparably low pay. And for those not working in mining or agriculture, or the small business and infrastructure that supports the area, it is very hard to find work. Housing and employment opportunities are scarce, as are health care resources. People waiting to see a doctor or specialist can wait several weeks or months. There are a good number of holistic service providers in the area, but few registered therapists that people can see with their private or Provincial health care benefits. (Our Medical Services Plan in BC covers basic health care costs – ie. doctor and hospital visits – to all residents, and a minimal subsidy for extended health services for low income residents: acupuncture, massage, physiotherapy, chiropractic, and podiatry. People of a certain income level pay a premium for MSP while low income people pay nothing.)
Area residents are largely from a Euporean settler background, but there is increasing diversity, especially from South and East Asian, South American and Caribbean areas. Most people are English speaking but there are many French speaking people here as well, primarily due to the decades-long history of young Quebeqois coming to this area to work. Small First Nations communities - that comprise the Smelqmix (Similkameen) people and some of the Syilx (Okanagan) people - are interspersed among the towns and villages. There is more integration here than in areas where Indigenous people were forced to live on large reservations that were isolated from towns and cities. However, just like anyone else who survives colonization, local First Nations people here as a whole still contend with fewer resources than typical Canadians, and the ongoing effects of residential schools and forced displacement from their lands and traditions.
What do you enjoy/like most about your HWB chapter or HWB international?
Accessability! Access to holistic health care is my passion and I love that HWB aims to provide this internationally, as well as offering me a platform to oranize activities locally while supporting a greater cause.
Who to contact to join: Laurel Irons email@example.com
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