Instructional Plans: Plants Used for Medicinal and Social Purposes
Lesson 3: Oral History of Plants
Aboriginal families have a unique way of sharing information and traditions known as oral history. Oral history is a method of sharing one's history, culture and traditions through the use of stories and legends. Aboriginal People have used oral history as the primary means of passing information from one generation to the next. It is important to share stories and legends accurately to properly preserve their initial purpose, lesson, meaning and intent. Oral history shares aspects of the customs and traditions that people practiced in the past and is a tool to ensure that many of these customs and traditions are practiced in today's families and communities.
The passing of oral history is directly connected to the essential role of Elders in Aboriginal communities. Often Elders were given special knowledge of plants, roots, and berries and how these plant sources could be used as medicine to heal a variety of ailments. Elders who specialized in this were referred to as Medicine Men. Elders not only made their communities bodies healthy they also played important roles in mental and spiritual health as well.
Oral history is an Aboriginal way of documenting history from the beginning of time as they did not have a formal written history until contact with Europeans.
The circle is an important symbol in Aboriginal culture as it represents interconnectedness, equality and continuity. Circles are non-hierarchal and inclusive, and are one of the main tenants of Aboriginal worldview and belief systems. Circles are found throughout nature. For instance, the sun and seasons start in the east and move clockwise to the south, west and north.
Prior to this lesson you will need to gather two or three different looking plants, leaves, roots, or berries for students to examine. Refer to the Native Plant Chart in the Student Zone to familiarize yourself with one or two plants that were utilized by Aboriginal peoples. You may also search the Photogrph Gallery to find a picture of the plants you select.
Have all students sit in a circle formation for this lesson. Make sure to explain the significance of the circle to Aboriginal culture. Once seated in the circle hold up the first of the plants you previously collected. You may choose to pass the plant around the circle so each student can have a moment to study it. Have the students hypothesize as to where the plant could have been found. What do they notice about the plant? What does it feel like? Does it have a smell? Do you think it would taste good or bad?
Guide the students into thinking about what uses the plant may have. It may be used to make things, but it can also be used to heal things as well. Have them brainstorm some ideas. Repeat this exercise with a few different plant sources.
Ask students if they have ever had a grandparent or other family member share a story with them. Have they ever had a grandparent or other family member use a “home remedy” upon them to make them feel better (for example: rubbing aloe vera plant syrup on a small burn)? Inform the students that Aboriginal communities operated pri marily in this way. They passed down information through stories known as oral history. Explain that Elders (grandparents) were the ones that shared the oral history and sometimes they had special knowledge about how a plant, root, or berry could make their community members feel better if they were sick. Refer to the information you gathered from the Native Plant Chart. Share with the students the photograph of the plant and some of its uses.
As a class, the students will create a story that tells of how a plant was used to make someone feel better. The story can be completely fictional as the students may create a name for a plant and its healing properties, or you may choose to incorporate the plant example that you shared earlier in the lesson. Either way, the purpose is for students to understand how knowledge of plants was passed down as oral history and that plants did indeed heal people.